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Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

Overview

The Sustainable Development Goals call on the global community to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) care services by 2030. But around the world, women and girls, as well as men and boys – particularly those who are socially or economically disadvantaged – are deprived of their rights to accurate information, services and opportunities regarding sexuality and reproduction. The result is negative and often severe impacts on the health and wellbeing of millions of women, men and young people across developing countries.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 303,000 women die each year from pregnancy-related causes. The vast majority of these deaths, as well as the more than 21 million women unsafe abortions that take place each year, occur in developing countries. And yet, 225 million women of reproductive age want to delay or avoid pregnancy, but are not using modern contraception. This unmet need is particularly high among marginalized people, such as refugees, slum dwellers, those living in rural communities and adolescents.

Indeed, adolescents and youth have amongst the greatest unmet need for access to not only contraception, but the information and services about a full range of sexual and reproductive health issues that can facilitate a healthy transition to adulthood. As a result, adolescents are still at great risk of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and of early and unintended pregnancies. HIV/AIDS is now the leading cause of death amongst adolescent girls aged 10 – 19 globally, and complications during pregnancy or childbearing are consistently among the top causes of death for older adolescent girls.

A lack of understanding of basic sexual and reproductive rights by adolescents and adults alike also contributes to increased risk of sexual violence and harassment and perpetuates gender inequality in both relationships and society at large.

In the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as other international agreements, the global community has repeatedly recognized the critical need for women, men and young people to be able to access rights-based sexual and reproductive health information, options and services.

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ICRW's Role

ICRW’s work helps to demonstrate that improved sexual and reproductive health and rights are essential in their own right, as well as pre-conditions for achieving gender equality, empowering women and reducing global poverty. Through our research, ICRW is generating a better understanding of the challenges that women, girls, men and boys face in exercising their sexual and reproductive rights, and in accessing comprehensive SRH information and services that meet their needs. At the same time, we are working to identify strategies to help overcome these barriers.

Over the years, ICRW has contributed toward building a solid base of evidence to inform programs and policies through:

  • Better understanding the connections between gender, sexual and reproductive health and development;
  • Introducing the concept of “reproductive control,” which sheds light on how the social construction of gender can influence fertility preferences, unmet needs for family planning, and the barriers that women face to using contraception and safe abortion in line with their desires;
  • Understanding the barriers to, and developing solutions to, increasing women’s and young people’s access to effective and accurate sexual and reproductive health information and services; and
  • Undertaking rigorous evaluations of SRHR programs to demonstrate what works, how and why.

Our research examines the ways in which harmful gender norms can constrain or hamper healthy sexual and reproductive choices, and how achieving access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and services can positively influence gender equality outcomes. For example, we have worked to identify the barriers that women and adolescents face to understanding and exercising full control over their reproductive decisions, and how these barriers can be overcome. We have expanded the evidence base around sexual decision-making and called attention to some of the economic drivers of sexual risk-taking, particularly among adolescents. And we have helped build a base of knowledge around how harmful and constrained perceptions of girls’ sexuality can contribute to poor health and education outcomes for girls, such as early pregnancy and child marriage.

ICRW’s rigorous evaluations have also helped document some of the most effective ways to reach adolescents, young women and adult women and men with SRH information and services. Our technical assistance has helped service providers to better understand and incorporate gender into their programming.

The work ICRW undertakes, combined with strategic advocacy and outreach to key stakeholders worldwide, helps to creates policies, programs and conditions that improve the sexual and reproductive health and the quality of life for individuals, families, communities and nations.

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