NEW YORK (20 October 2021) – Governments around the world must restore essential sexual and reproductive health services lost during the COVID-19 pandemic and reaffirm that sexual and reproductive health rights are human rights, a UN Expert told the General Assembly today.
“Millions of women globally had limited or no access to maternal and new born health care, some 14 million women lost access to contraception, and specialized services for victims of gender based violence became inaccessible, when they were needed most,” said Tlaleng Mofokeng the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health.
“Lockdowns, movement restrictions and diversion of funds due to COVID-19 have jeopardized access to essential sexual and reproductive health services,” she said in presenting her report on the effect of the pandemic on sexual and reproductive rights. “In addition, we have seen new measures and laws in place across regions, further restricting access to safe abortion, a component of sexual and reproductive services encompassed in the right to health.”
She called on States to move beyond the COVID-19 pandemic to rebuild and strengthen health systems for advancing sexual and reproductive health rights for all, as part of the right to health.
“Governments must remove obstacles and ensure full access to quality services, including maternal health care, contraception and abortion services, screening for reproductive cancers and comprehensive sexual education,” she said.
However, Mofokeng said, many obstacles continue to stand between individuals and their enjoyment of sexual and reproductive health rights globally. Some of these obstacles have their roots in patriarchy and colonialism, and others relate to structural and systemic inequalities.
“Patriarchal oppression is universal, permeates all societies and is at the very origin of the erosion of autonomy and the control of girls and women’s bodies and sexuality to the detriment of their enjoyment of sexual and reproductive rights,” she said. “Colonialism has permeated patriarchy across regions and its legacy continues today through laws, policies and practices that deny or restrict sexual and reproductive rights and criminalize gender diverse identities and consensual adult same-sex acts.”
Mofokeng reminded governments that sexual and reproductive health rights are human rights rooted in binding human rights treaties, jurisprudence, and consensus outcome documents of international conferences.
“I call on States to respect and protect key principles of autonomy, bodily integrity, dignity and well-being of individuals, especially in relation to sexual and reproductive health rights,” she said. “I pledge to engage with States and all relevant actors to uphold the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”
Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng, (South Africa), has been the Special Rapporteur on the right to health since August 2020. She is a medical doctor with expertise advocating for universal health access, HIV care, youth friendly services and family planning. Tlaleng Mofokeng is a member of the boards of Safe Abortion Action Fund, Global Advisory Board for Sexual Health and Wellbeing, Accountability International. She is also the Chair of the Soul City Institute board. Her areas of focus have been on gender equality, policy, maternal and neonatal health, universal health access, post violence care, menstrual health, and HIV management. Tlaleng Mofokeng has been Commissioner at the Commission for Gender Equality in South Africa and advisor to the Technical Committee for the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Framework Strategy in South Africa.
The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.
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