Choose a news category:

Reproductive Choice and Women's Human Rights

Posted on: Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Keywords: Women's Health, Combating Violence Against Women, Reproductive Rights

A MADRE Position Paper

If a woman cannot choose whether, when and with whom to have children, her other life choices—if or when to marry, where to live, and what kind of work to pursue—are limited. In fact, reproductive choice is inextricably linked to the full range of women’s human rights, including participation in public life and access to opportunities for political and economic empowerment. At the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo (ICPD), governments committed for the first time ever to respecting and protecting reproductive choice as crucial to women’s overall health and as a basic human right. But more than ten years later, governments and policymakers around the world continue to seek control over women’s fertility as a key to advancing fundamentalist political agendas and regulating population growth. Such policies—whether they deny women the right to limit their fertility or, conversely, deny women the right to have children—are anti-choice because they subordinate the rights and desires of individual women to the pursuit of policy objectives.

From the start, the Cairo platform was under attack from conservative and fundamentalist governments. The Bush Administration, for example, has repeatedly tried to block international consensus reaffirming states’ commitments to ICPD recommendations. Bush’s first act as president was to reinstate the “global gag rule,” which cuts US funding to healthcare organizations that provide abortions or abortion counseling or advocate legalizing abortion. Hardest hit are clinics that serve poor women in the global South. For example, in Kenya, budget cuts resulting from the “gag rule” forced seven clinics to close. Thousands of poor women relied on these clinics for primary health care, including PAP smears, vaccinations for their children, malaria screening, and HIV/AIDS services. Ironically, cuts in family planning programs have led to more unwanted pregnancies and, therefore, more illegal, unsafe abortions, which kill nearly 80,000 women a year worldwide.

While the US and other fundamentalist governments violate women’s right to limit their fertility, population control advocates seek to deny women in poor countries the right to freely decide how many children to have. In dozens of poor countries “family planning” programs are singularly focused on reducing fertility through coercive contraception and sterilization campaigns. Advocates of such policies (including some prominent US-based environmental organizations and “development experts”) claim that high fertility rates in poor countries are the cause of major global crises, including mass poverty, environmental degradation, and the spread of AIDS. The theory, often presented in the parlance of “hard science,” boils down to an argument that there are too many poor people of color in the world. Meanwhile, actual causes of global emergencies—such as economic exploitation, corporate takeovers of the world’s natural resources, widespread militarism, and vast social inequality—are overlooked and those who profit from them are never implicated.

In many communities where MADRE works, governments still favor a top-down model of “delivering” long-acting birth control methods, such as Norplant, to poor and Indigenous women, without regard for health risks or women’s desire to control contraception use. Moreover, these birth control programs are implemented in the absence of overall health services for the community. Indeed, reproductive choice is one of many human rights violated by neoliberal economic policies that erode governments’ responsibility to provide basic services, including health care, to their people.

The right “to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health,” as guaranteed in the ICPD Platform, requires more than legalized abortion or access to birth control. Fulfilling this commitment requires the creation of comprehensive public health services (including health education) that are affordable, high quality, respectful and offered in local languages. In addition to full-spectrum health care, women’s ability to exercise reproductive choice entails freedom from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Condoms, for example, are only effective in preventing HIV infection and unwanted pregnancy if women have the power to insist that men use them. For most women, this capacity is compromised by economic dependency on men and/or fear of reprisal for refusing unsafe sex. Ultimately, reproductive choice is a product of having choices in other realms of life and can only be fully attained in concert with the full range of women’s human rights.

« Back to "Press Room" Next Article »

Article Tools
Increase Font Decrease Font Reset Font Print Page Email Page


"Press Room" Home October 2014 September 2014 August 2014 July 2014 June 2014 May 2014 April 2014 March 2014 February 2014 January 2014 December 2013 November 2013 October 2013 September 2013 August 2013 July 2013 June 2013 May 2013 April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 June 2012 May 2012 April 2012 March 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 November 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 June 2011 May 2011 April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008 November 2008 October 2008 September 2008 August 2008 July 2008 June 2008 May 2008 April 2008 March 2008 February 2008 January 2008 December 2007 November 2007 October 2007 September 2007 August 2007 June 2007 May 2007 April 2007 March 2007 February 2007 January 2007 December 2006 November 2006 October 2006 September 2006 July 2006 June 2006 April 2006 March 2006 January 2006 December 2005 November 2005 September 2005 August 2005 July 2005 April 2005 March 2005 November 2004 October 2004 April 2004 March 2004 January 2004 December 2003 October 2003 September 2003 June 2003 April 2003 January 2003 September 2002 June 2002 January 2002 November 2001 October 2001 September 2001 August 2001 January 2001


Kat Noel, Website & Media Coordinator
PHONE: +1 212 627 0444

To sign up to receive MADRE media alerts, click here.

Bring MADRE to You