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At a UNGA meeting on sexual reproductive health and rights, one of the panelists looked around the room and noted that all the attendees knew each other. And as someone interested in the field, but something of a newcomer, I was occasionally lost in the technical level of the questions on chain of distribution issues, references to previous reports and intimidated by the scale of the efforts, and barriers to me, as an individual citizen, entering the discussion.

This is probably how most people feel the minute they hear ‘Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.’

At the end of the conference, encouraging as it was, one panelist recognized the nature of the evening’s event.

“We’re talking to ourselves,” she said, urging the room to to pull others into the conversation. “We need to be talking to the people not in this room.”

She was right. It’s difficult to get people truly invested in the idea of sexual and reproductive health and rights. Many people in the developed world take it for granted – it’s hammered into us at a young age, often free baskets of condoms are provided by clinics and healthcare services, there are pamphlets, it’s often referenced in pop culture. Many of us know the difference between the pill, male condoms, female condoms, plan B and the patch.

Yet this is a luxury others don’t have or can’t afford, and the ramifications of that go far beyond a frustration about the inability to engage in consequence-free sex.

The term sexual and reproductive health and rights goes far beyond access to contraception. As the UN Foundation explains, it encompasses a whole range of issues, most of which many presume are natural and presupposed.

  • These are the right and ability to seek, receive, and impart information related to sexuality;
  • have respect for bodily integrity;
  • ability to choose a partner;
  • decide to be sexually active or not;
  • have consensual sex;
  • have consensual marriage;
  • decide whether or not, and when, to have children;
  • and pursue a satisfying, safe, and pleasurable sexual life.

Of course, this is a tall order, and seems far removed from the personal life of many reading this blog. There’s the lingering question: yes, that’s awful, but what can I do about it? 

It’s mistakenly assumed that you have to have money to donate or pack up and travel to the poorest nations in the world to make any real difference, or that far-flung places are the only ones struggling with SRHR.

Low-income communities and marginalized groups in developed countries like the US, Canada and European nations may be slightly better, but still need work.  You can lobby your local governments for change in your district or city; you can hold fundraisers, if that’s your forte; you can simply send encouraging words to workers in organizations working in the field, who can be very discouraged by the nature of the work.

Some may seen trivial, but they’re all contributing to a larger fight. And small though your efforts may be, women and girls can never have enough education, enough resources or enough empowerment when it comes to taking control of their bodies and sexual health.

View also:

Making Reproductive Rights a Reality for All, UNFPA
Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, UN Human Rights
Women’s Health, Sexual and Reproductive Rights, Amnesty International
Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights…Post-2015; IPPF

Featured Image Credit: Tom Rulkens on Flickr. AIDS awareness painting on wall in Chimoio town, Mozambique. The text reads: “be careful, always use a condom”

The Conversation

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