As we embark on another year of activism for sexual rights, we wanted to share with you our highlights of 2022. While the UN human rights system continues to be confronted by multiple challenges –from funding shortages, geopolitical tensions and polarisation and attempts to undermine multilateralism to the presence and influence of regressive and conservative actors, we have made steadfast progress in advancing sexual rights in this system. Read below for our highlights of 2022.
Our work at the Human Rights Council
This year, in collaboration with SRI partners and many other civil society organisations, we made more than 35 oral statements to the debates, panels and discussions of the Human Rights Council. These statements covered a range of issues, such as access to vaccines, bodily autonomy, civil society participation, feminist analysis of development, negative impacts of colonialism, migration, economic justice, and discrimination and violence against women and girls, to name a few.
We also worked on influencing the language of resolutions concerning a broad range of rights interlinked with sexual rights. With other feminist and activist organisations, we were able to advocate for text promoting gender equality, bodily autonomy, the elimination of violence against women, and menstrual health. 2022, saw increasing numbers of hostile amendments submitted on sexual and reproductive health and rights. These amendments were all fortunately defeated despite intensified opposition.
Last year, we hosted 3 side-events during the Human Rights Council sessions: Taking stock of Comprehensive Sexuality Education during the COVID-19 pandemic (see recording), Reproductive injustice: Population policies and denial of bodily autonomy (see recording) and A Conversation on Safe Abortion: Autonomy, control, & self-management: guideline & eseential policy (see recording).
To coincide with International Safe Abortion Day, the Sexual Rights Initiative, in collaboration with many other civil society organisations, launched again a call in 2022 for a Joint Civil Society Statement on Abortion.
The focus of the statement was to highlight the trend of liberalisation of abortion in the world and that denial of abortion is a violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The statement gathered the signatures of 425 organisations and 459 individuals. The statement was delivered to the Item 8 discussion at the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council.
Special Procedures: Focus on the Right to Health and GBV
In 2022, we focused on responding to calls for inputs made by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health and the Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls.
- A first SRI submission to the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, addressing violations of bodily autonomy and the operation of systems of oppression as structural violence. It examines some of the impacts of criminalization of sex work and abortion, as well as the impacts of neoliberalism on health systems and the right to health. Finally, it highlights the harms of carceral and protectionist responses to gender-based violence and argues for an intersectional rather than identity-based approach to this issue. The Special rapporteur’s report on violence and health referenced our submission in analysing the roots of structural violence in patriarchal, hegemonic, and colonial definitions of social order, as well as its naming of the denial of abortion, preventable maternal morbidity, the criminalization of sex work, and State-sanctioned sterilization as forms of structural violence.
- A second SRI submission to the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health advocating for addressing racism and colonialism as determinants of health and as structural violence; illustrating some of the ways in which racism manifests in health, including with regards to bodily autonomy, SRHR, mental health, maternal mortality and morbidity, and the impact of racist anti-immigration policies. The Special Rapporteur’s report referenced SRI’s submission regarding concerns with structural adjustments, austerity, privatization and the racialized, classed, gendered and ableist abuses linked with it, as well as the deep impact of systemic oppressions on mental health. It also echoes a recommendation made in the 2020 HRC joint statement on abortion for financial assistance without conditionalities.
- SRI also organized a Tweetchat on Racism and Health in the context of the SR’s call for submissions, in which the mandate-holder as well as a number of organizations and activists participated. The summary compilation is available here and was also sent as a resource to the SR for her preparation of the report.
- A joint submission with AWID and IWRAW Asia Pacific to the Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls advocating for an economic justice approach and class analysis of poverty and inequality. The submission calls for a transformation of the international economic order and for accountability for international financial institutions and corporations. It also calls for resource redistribution through the right to development, progressive taxation, debt cancellation, and reparations for colonialism, slavery and environmental destruction. The Working Group’s report will be presented to the HRC in June 2023.
UPR: 18 Shadow Reports : 13 Countries
Last year we collaborated with activists and organisations to submit shadow reports the Universal Periodic Review for India, the Netherlands, Morocco, Poland, South Africa, Pakistan, Zambia, Switzerland, Guatemala, Japan, Botswana and Romania.
Robert Aseda from the Network for Adolescents and Youth of Africa (NAYA - http://nayakenya.org) explains how the UPR process has been useful for their organisations' advocacy and what change they have been able to achieve.
Treaty Monitoring Bodies: Racial Discrimination & Health
The Sexual Rights Initiative made a submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to inform the elaboration of General Recommendation no 37 on racial discrimination and the right to health in collaboration with the National Council of Women Leaders (NCWL), the Dalit Human Rights Defenders Network (DHRDNet), the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), AWID, Her Rights Initiative (HRI) and Alisa Lombard.
The main argument of this submission is that a tripartite approach is necessary in order for states to meet their obligations under CERD Article 5 (e)(iv) concerning access to health and healthcare of all people. In it, we argue for healthcare to be publicly funded through progressive taxation; for a systems approach to fulfil the right to health; and for an intersectional approach to the right to health. The submission will also address ‘case studies’ on Indigenous communities in Canada; Caste-based oppression in India; and Women living with HIV in South Africa.
Up next in 2023!
The Human Rights Council will continue its work throughout the year. Despite the barriers to participation for CSO advocates, particularly from the Global South, progress on SRHR in UN human rights spaces is still possible and must be pursued. In 2023, SRI will continue its work of advancing sexual rights in the UN human rights system. The 52nd session of the Council will be held from February 27 to April 4 2023.
Watch this space for our upcoming analysis and round-ups on advocacy for sexual rights at the UN!