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Addressing women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health rights in crisis

Graphic: Participants during the interactive dialogue

The APF hosted an interactive dialogue on women's and girls' sexual and reproductive health rights in the Asia Pacific region.

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The 26th APF Annual General Meeting (AGM) was held virtually on the 15th and 16th of September 2021, bringing together all 25 member institutions, as well as observer representatives from other National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in the Asia Pacific.  

During the second day's proceedings, an interactive dialogue was held between the UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Girls and APF member institutions, to share recommendations from the UN Working Group's latest thematic report on sexual and reproductive health rights in crisis. During the dialogue, participants discussed opportunities for ongoing collaboration and engagement.

The meeting also provided a platform for APF members to share good practice examples, and to discuss the promotion of women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health rights in the region.  

The interactive dialogue was moderated by Elizabeth Broderick AO, Chair-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women and Girls.   

Ms Broderick was previously Australia’s longest-serving Sex Discrimination Commissioner, and throughout her distinguished career has been committed to improving gender equality and women’s economic security. In 2017, she was appointed by the United Nations as a Special Rapporteur and Independent Expert.   

Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM, APF Chairperson and Chair of the APF Women’s Leaders Forum, delivered the sessions opening remarks. She began with an acknowledgement of the dire situation facing colleagues at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), including the severe restrictions placed on the rights of women and girls.  

She also highlighted the value of the APF’s partnership with the UN Working Group and its strong alignment with the APF’s strategic focus of achieving gender equality.  

Graphic: Representatives from the National Human Rights Commission of India during the interactive dialogue

Melissa Upreti, Chair of the UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Girls, presented an overview of the UN Working Group and the report on women’s and girls’ sexual reproductive health in crisis, as well as some highlights from the new microsite based on the report.  

As a human rights lawyer and women rights activist, Ms Upreti has spent nearly two decades advocating for the recognition and fulfillment of women’s rights through national, regional, and international law and mechanisms. She said that while women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health rights are well established, key statistics from the report indicate the significant challenges still facing women and girls and point to the extensive work that remains to be done to achieve gender equality.  

Furthermore, she said that crisis events such as the COVID-19 pandemic not only exacerbate existing inequalities but that “the focus on an event, and the understanding of a situation of crisis, may divert attention from key underlying factors that make a given situation critical for different populations, especially for women and girls.”  

Representatives from two APF member institutions then shared reflections on their respective NHRIs engagement on sexual and reproductive health rights. Jesuina Maria Ferreira Gomes, Provedora at the Provedor for Human Rights and Justice of Timor Leste, presented on women’s and girls’ sexual health, reproductive rights and challenges faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Timor-Leste. 

Loukinikini Vili, Director of Human Rights, Office of the Ombudsman of Samoa, shared insights from some of the Office’s recent engagement on sexual and reproductive health rights, including updates from its 2017 National Public Inquiry into Family Violence in Samoa.  

This was followed by an interactive session between NHRIs and the UN Working Group on sexual health and reproductive rights and future cooperation, moderated by Pip Dargan, APF Principal Advisor on Capacity Assessment and International Engagement. The session included contributions from the National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh, the National Human Rights Commission of India, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, and the National Human Rights Commission of Korea.  

The interactive dialogue was the first session in an ongoing collaboration between the APF and the UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Girls. The APF looks forward to future opportunities for engagement with the UN Working Group in continuing to protect and promote the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and girls, and to work towards achieving gender equality.  

  

Date: 24 September 2021 


Image credits

  1. Participants during the interactive dialogue - APF
  2. Representatives from the National Human Rights Commission of India during the interactive dialogue - APF