Applying Human Rights Based Approached to Maternal and Child Health

Kanu Fanta, mother of 6, nurses her 3-weeks-old at home in Amhara Region in Ethiopia 3 July 2013 © UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/OseThe application of human rights based approaches in the areas of women and children’s health is increasingly gaining acceptance among a diverse range of stakeholders.

The deaths and injuries suffered by women and adolescent girls in pregnancy and childbirth, as well as by infants and young children, are largely preventable, yet they still occur at alarming rates.

Under international human rights law, governments have legal obligations to maintain the highest possible standard of health and health care for women, children and adolescents. There is also increasing evidence that systematic application of human rights standards and principles contributes to health.

The Human Rights Council has recognized that applying a rights based approach to the reduction of maternal and child mortality and morbidity is key to making meaningful progress in this area.

In this regard, it has requested the Office of the High Commissioner to produce two technical guidance documents on the application of a human rights based approach to the implementation of policies and programmes to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity, and under-5 child mortality and morbidity.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, together with UNFPA, WHO, the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, and the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights of Harvard University, has also produced a series of Reflection Guides for different stakeholder groups in order to provide more detailed advice on the application of rights based approaches to maternal and child health:

Health Policy Makers
English | French | Spanish
National Human Rights Institutions
English | French | Spanish
Health Workers
English | French | Spanish
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The UN Secretary-General has also prioritized women and children’s health through his Every Woman Every Child initiative, which was launched in 2010 with the Secretary General’s Global Strategy for Women and Children’s Health. This strategy affirmed that these are matters of fundamental human rights.  

The Global Strategy galvanised global action, in key areas such as financing, for the improvement of women’s and children’s health, as a result of which important gains have been registered.The renewed Global Strategy on Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health (2015-2030), launched in September 2015, will take this agenda forward by focusing on the health and health-related rights of women, children and adolescents as part of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.

Global Strategy on Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health (2015-2030)

In May 2016, the WHO Director General and the High Commissioner established the High Level Working Group on the Health and Human Rights of Women, Children and Adolescents, co-chaired by Tarja Halonen, former President of Finland, and Hina Jilani, prominent human rights defender and member of the Elders of Pakistan. The Working Group is expected to mobilize political will, to bring all relevant actors together and to enhance accountability with a view to making human rights a reality for those who have been left behind and to ensuring that they can lead dignified, healthy and productive lives. The Working Group's report will be presented to the World Health Assembly in May 2017 and to the Human Rights Council at its 35th session. More information on the Working Group is available at: http://www.who.int/life-course/news/hhr-working-group-meeting-feb2017/en/.

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