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Promoting reproductive rights

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Reproduction is a fundamental, life-changing experience for the vast majority of humanity.

However, each year 80 million women have unintended pregnancies (45 million of which end in abortion) and more than half a million women are estimated to die from complications associated with pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period.

Around 340 million people acquire new sexually transmitted infections.

In every part of the world, women and adolescents bear the brunt of sexual and reproductive ill-health. Globally, it is women and girls in developing countries who are at most risk of reproductive-related disease, disability and death.

The importance of reproductive rights in meeting international development goals has been widely recognised. However, reproductive rights are valuable ends in themselves and essential to the enjoyment of other fundamental rights.

Graphic: Women and girls in India

Attaining the goals of sustainable, equitable development requires that individuals are able to exercise control over their sexual and reproductive lives.

This includes the rights to:

  • Reproductive health as a component of overall health, throughout the life cycle, for both men and women
  • Reproductive decision-making, including voluntary choice in marriage, family formation and determination of the number, timing and spacing of one's children and the right to have access to the information and means needed to exercise voluntary choice
  • Equality and equity for men and women, to enable individuals to make free and informed choices in all spheres of life, free from discrimination based on gender
  • Sexual and reproductive security, including freedom from sexual violence and coercion, and the right to privacy.

We need to address head on the systemic gender inequalities that hamper women's empowerment, their health and their options in life, and that prevent redress when their human rights are violated.


National human rights institutions (NHRIs) are uniquely placed to contribute positively to human rights promotion and protection, especially in areas that are relatively new, sensitive and prone to misunderstanding.

They can help rights-holders claim the rights to which they are entitled; monitor and report on the implementation of rights; educate officials and the community about reproductive rights; and sometimes even contribute to the delivery of services.

In recent years, the APF and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) have worked together to support NHRIs in the region to more effectively integrate reproductive rights into their ongoing work.

The first stage of this project was a study of 15 APF members (2011) that examined how NHRIs in the Asia Pacific region have addressed the issue to date; what obstacles they have encountered; and how reproductive rights can be more effectively integrated into their work.

Graphic: Mother and baby, Bangladesh

APF Regional Consultation on Reproductive Rights


The consultation provided an opportunity for APF members to identify concrete steps they could take to better promote and protect reproductive rights.

A regional consultation in June 2011 brought together representatives from our members and UNFPA to discuss the study's findings and identify concrete steps that NHRIs could take to better promote and protect reproductive rights in their work.

Many of our members are now putting the results of these discussions into action.

The APF also provides practical support. Following our first blended learning program on the human rights of women and girls, held between January and April 2015, the APF provided $5,000 seed funding to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission to hold a three-day workshop on reproductive rights with 20 female teachers. The outcomes of the workshop, to be held in Kabul, will be known by May 2016.


Reproductive Rights: A Manual for National Human Rights Instititutions

05 Oct 2015  

Integrating Reproductive Rights into the Work of NHRIs in the Asia Pacific

05 Oct 2015  

Application of Human Rights to Reproductive and Sexual Health

05 Oct 2015  

Reproductive Rights: A Tool for Monitoring State Obligations

10 Sep 2015  
More resources

Image credits

  1. Woman and baby - MD. Hasibul Haque Sakib, Flickr; http://bit.ly/1iVeVZQ
  2. Women and girls in India - Suchit Nanda/Majority World, Flickr