Meeting the Need for Sexual and Reproductive Health

At the Right By Her campaign, one of our core focus areas is the provision of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) across Africa. What is included under this umbrella? To start, health is much more than just the absence of disease. It is defined by the WHO as ‘a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being.’ Sexual health, then, is this complete well-being in relation to one’s sexuality – that is, being able to have pleasurable, safe, and consensual sexual experiences and relationships. Reproductive health refers to the state of one’s reproductive system.

Having rights over one’s sexual and reproductive health (SRH) means the freedom to decide when to have sex and with whom, and whether or not to have children, when to have them and how many to have. This means that women must have freedom from sexual violence, discrimination, and coercion, and must be able to access information about family planning; safe, effective, and affordable family planning methods; protective measures against sexually transmitted infections and diseases; and health care services that enable them to have a safe pregnancy and childbirth.

Charity and Loise at Safe Community Youth Initiative located in Mtwapa, Kilifi County, Kenya. Photo taken by Brian Otieno for DSW.

In short, every woman has the right to:

DECIDE whether to have children, and the number and spacing of children.
CHOOSE any method of contraception.
ACCESS family planning services and education.
PROTECTION from all forms of violence, be it physical, sexual, psychological, or economic.

According to the Maputo Protocol, her government must provide accessible health services and education to all women and strengthen health services for pregnant women and new mothers, and must prohibit all forms of violence against women, punish the perpetrators of said violence, and support women victims.

The reality is that 218 million women in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) have an unmet need for modern contraception. The Guttmacher Institute’s new study Adding It Up documents the needs of 1.6 billion women of reproductive age (15-49) in 132 countries and found that need is disproportionately high among adolescents aged 15-19 (43%). It reports that 111 million unintended pregnancies occur in LMICs – just under half (49%) of all pregnancies in those countries – every year, with millions giving birth without adequate pregnancy-related and newborn care.

Meeting the need for sexual and reproductive health care would have enormous benefits and greatly reduce health risks for individuals and their families. If all women in LMICs who wish to avoid pregnancy had access to modern contraceptives and all pregnant women received care that meets the international standard, there would be a reduction of about two-thirds in unintended pregnancies and maternal deaths – that is 76 million fewer unintended pregnancies and 186,000 fewer maternal deaths.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, women and girls’ SRHR has suffered, with a marked increase in gender-based violence (GBV) and unintended pregnancies as health care and resources have been diverted to fight the novel coronavirus. Commitment to providing this essential care for all women and upholding sexual and reproductive rights is critical now and always. Inaction will have devastating consequences, whereas investing in SRH interventions would enable significant strides towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

We work to extend the rights of women and girls across the African continent, working towards the fulfilment of SDG 5, Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, by 2030. Where do you stand? Stand with us – stand Right By Her.

In 2018, we published the State of African Women Report, a pan-African review of the current status of implementation of continental commitments on the rights of women and girls. Read it below and join the conversation using the hashtags #RightByHer and #RightsVsRealities.

Full Report

Chapter 1 – Introduction
Chapter 2 – Key Findings and Conclusions
Chapter 3 – SRHR in the AU Framework
Chapter 4 – Regional Economic Communities
Chapter 5 – Gender-Based Violence Against Women
Chapter 6 – Harmful Practices
Chapter 7 – Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
Chapter 8 – HIV and AIDS

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