This blog post is in conjunction with the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict on June 19 and World Refugee Day on June 20.
Just when we thought this couldn’t go any worse, we woke up to another regressive move by the UN Security Council on 23 April, with the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2467[i] on Women, Peace and Security. The resolution is adopted with all the references to sexual and reproductive health services removed. While it is a huge pushback to some gains made previously, though incomprehensive and sporadic, the decision to adopt the resolution 2467, yet again manifested the power vested on men to control women’s bodies and their choices. This incident draws a perfect illustration of leaders and decision makers who have no concern for the people they are elected to serve. And this is yet another example of how far removed decisions that take place at the regional and international levels are from the lived realities of people, in this case women and girls who have suffered sexual violence in conflict.
As someone who has been closely following the stories of women and girls in conflict, I feel that the decision makers have once again done a great disservice to the women and girls particularly in the situation of conflict, by undermining their bodily rights and integrity. It is indisputable that women and girls are disproportionately impacted during times of conflict. In situations of conflict, violence against their sexual and reproductive health and rights are escalated to unprecedented levels, leading to abject despair. Women’s bodies are used as weapon of wars. Rape against women and girls are perpetrated as a means to bring dishonour to the families and communities of the rival groups in conflict. Women’s bodies and their reproductive functions are targeted for either ethnic cleansing or to increase the number of particular groups. They are hence either denied or forced to use contraception. Young girls are married off sooner in fear of being sexually violated or conscripted by the parties in conflict. Evidence has shown the grim realities of violence perpetrated even by the humanitarian workers where women and girls have been forced into sex in exchange for basic needs. Unsafe abortion is the leading cause of maternal mortality in conflict-related settings.[ii]
These realities have been turned a blind eye against only because US wanted references to SRHR removed[iii]. Such moves diminish already limited recourse that women and girls have, especially in situations of conflict where services for health are generally disintegrated. This also provides impunity to the perpetrators of the sexual violence in conflict against women and girls. By jeopardising some important strides made in the previous resolutions, the member states have exhibited a lack of seriousness towards their accountability to their own promises.
Adoption of UNSCR 2467 undermines commitments to UNSCR 1325 and the subsequent resolutions on Women, Peace and Security. It further undermines the CEDAW General Recommendation 30 adopted in 2013 which explicitly called on States to provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services for all women and girls in conflict. States are obliged to provide safe abortion services including post-abortion care. States are also obliged to provide comprehensive SRHR information, psychosocial support, family planning services, maternal health services, skilled delivery services and care to treat injuries arising from sexual violence, complications from delivery and other reproductive health complications.[iv]
Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are core human rights. Upholding SRHR of women and girls are key to their empowerment.
Only when they are able to make decisions about their bodies and lives without fear of violence and threats are they able to make choices that are informed and healthy for their physical and mental wellbeing. However, with constant threats to their rights to SRHR and pushback at all levels, it is becoming more difficult than ever to ensure that SRHR of women and girls are respected and protected.
by Biplabi Shrestha