Stand Up for Defenders of Sexual and Reproductive Rights

December 10, 2015 SRR ARE HR

By Sivananthi Thanenthiran, Executive Director, ARROW

December 10th is the Human Rights Day, and often in the dialogues about human rights defenders, defenders of sexual and reproductive rights are missed out.

Sexual and reproductive rights are fundamental human rights, and yet remain so contentious that some, till today, resort to violence and harassment in order to shut down those who would speak up for sexual and reproductive rights.

The recent attacks on Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs which resulted in three people dead, and 9 others wounded, was only the most recent in the series of attacks against Planned Parenthood in the US, including arson, vandalism, all an extension of the attacks made by Congress itself on the service provider, regardless of existing laws protecting the women’s reproductive rights in the country. Many women in so-called lesser developed countries like Nepal, Cambodia, Tunisia, Bosnia, Kyrgyzstan are able to procure services without any threats on patients or on service providers.

So while the US makes a hallmark of human rights, these very attacks on women’s human rights also need to be recognised, and maps such as the abortion laws, and attacks on human rights defenders should be changed to reflect current realities of the US.

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But let’s come closer to home. Women activists in Myanmar aka Burma, also receive death threats from extremist Buddhist monks, for teaching women sexual health. The controversial issue? Basic teachings on vagina, menstruation, female genitalia in order to create awareness of maternal health and sexual health. According to the article – “The traditional view in Myanmar is that women’s genitals are dirty, which leads to degrading views about women in general. When society degrades women no one respects them. Sex education is important in teaching women to value themselves.” In the same article: “It’s not right that people should tell us we’re dirty just because we menstruate. It is discrimination,” says 19-year-old Thu Thu, an activist from Shan state. These activists are intimidated and publicly humiliated, and have received death threats for just going about their work.

In the Philippines, a 2014 UNDP/ USAID report says there were 28 LGBT-related killings in the first half of 2011 alone. In October 2014, a transgender woman – Jennifer Laude – was found killed in a motel room, the culprit a US marine. Just a few weeks later Mary Jo Anonuevo, a 55 year old transgender was stabbed 33 times to death in her bar. Though these two transgender women may not be recognized as human rights defenders, it is undeniable they were killed because they lived lives which fulfilled their human rights to identity and sexuality.

This year, Francela Mendez Rodrigues, a 29 year old prominent trans rights activist in El Salvador, was also killed by unknown assailant. Rodríguez was a well-known for her activism for the LGBT rights group Colectivo Alejandría and was also part of the El Salvadorian Network of Women Human Rights Defenders.

Sexual and reproductive rights are fundamental human rights, so let us also stand up and speak up for those who defend women’s sexual and reproductive rights on this day!