Press Release

On International Women’s Day, IACHR Urges States to Guarantee Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Rights

March 6, 2015

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Washington, D.C. - In the context of International Women’s Day, March 8, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urges States to adopt urgent measures to ensure that the sexual and reproductive rights of women in the Americas are respected.

“Women in the region are facing very significant obstacles in exercising their sexual and reproductive rights,” said the Rapporteur on the Rights of Women and Chair of the IACHR, Tracy Robinson. “Some women end up in jail for seeking emergency health services during a pregnancy. Other women find themselves forced to continue pregnancies that put their lives at risk or that are a result of rape, because in several countries in the region abortion is criminalized under any circumstance,” she said.

“The lack of sex education and the lack of access to information on sexual and reproductive health is another serious problem, because it keeps women from being able to effectively make independent decisions about their sexual and reproductive health. These are only a few of the serious problems we have observed and about which we are deeply concerned,” the Rapporteur added.

In its country visits as well as in hearings, requests for precautionary measures, and the system of individual petitions and cases, the Inter-American Commission has been receiving information about the range of obstacles women face to be able to effectively exercise their sexual and reproductive rights. For example, the Commission has received information on the negative impact of criminalizing abortion under all circumstances and how this relates to the problem of maternal mortality. In addition, over the years, the Commission has processed petitions related to cases involving forced sterilizations and the performance of surgical procedures without the informed consent of the women affected, resulting in the permanent loss of their reproductive capacity.

The Commission is also concerned about the difficulty in accessing the means of emergency contraception in a number of countries, due to the restrictions imposed on their distribution, sale, and circulation. Another continuing problem concerns women’s access to the education and information they need to make independent decisions about their sexual and reproductive health. In addition, obstetric violence continues to be a problem in health care environments. This can take the form, for example, of pathologizing a natural process such as childbirth; using techniques to speed up delivery without the woman’s prior consent; or performing cesareans without the woman’s consent when conditions exist for a natural delivery, among other aspects. The Commission has also received troubling information concerning threats and acts of harassment against individuals and organizations who defend sexual and reproductive rights.

“If we are to move forward in addressing women’s rights, women’s sexual and reproductive health must be a priority on the public agenda of the OAS Member States,” Commissioner Tracy Robinson said.

This implies an obligation to conduct a detailed analysis of all laws, regulations, practices, and public policies that may have a discriminatory impact on women’s access to reproductive health services, and to eliminate all factual and legal barriers that may impede women’s access to the maternal health services they need. Laws restricting reproductive rights have a particular impact on adolescent women, indigenous and Afro-descendant women, lesbians, women living with disabilities, rural women, and women affected by poverty, among other risk factors. In all their interventions, States should take into account the link between respect for women’s sexual and reproductive rights and the exercise of their rights to life, physical integrity, and dignity and their right to live free of all forms of violence and discrimination.

“It is imperative that all actions and measures taken by the States be geared toward facilitating access to information on sexual and reproductive health so that women can make free and independent decisions on key aspects of their health and their bodies,” said Rapporteur Robinson. “Moreover, women and the organizations that represent them should play an active and participatory role in designing all laws and policies related to sexual and reproductive rights.”

The IACHR underscores that informed consent is an essential requirement for the respect and guarantee of all the rights of women in the area of maternal health and all spheres related to their sexual and reproductive capacity. In addition, the Commission stresses the importance of those who work to defend sexual and reproductive rights, the essential role they play in building inclusive democratic societies, and the State’s duty to ensure their safety so they can carry out their work without risk.

Finally, the IACHR urges the States to implement the recommendations of the “Declaration on Violence Against Women, Girls and Adolescentes and their Sexual and Reproductive Rights”, issued in September 2014 in the 11th meeting of the Follow-Up Mechanism to the Convention of Belém do Pará (MESECVI).

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 024/15