Workshop provides critical space for activists working on sexual and reproductive health rights

“When I arrived, my hope for the workshop was to have a better understanding of human rights mechanisms, especially those related to sexual and reproductive rights,” said Servane Swadogo, Deputy Secretary of the League for the Defense of Justice and Liberty in Burkina Faso. “Now, I am in a position to say that I learned a lot – this workshop is very welcome and extremely important.”

Swadogo participated in a special training workshop on using human rights tools to protect and promote sexual and reproductive health rights, organized by the UN Human Rights Regional Office for West Africa, along with the Regional Office for West and Central Africa for the UN Population Fund in Dakar, Senegal.

The workshop brought together representatives of NGOs from across West Africa to learn how to use human rights mechanisms in their work in assisting women, girls and others in accessing sexual and reproductive health services and information. The workshop focused on these civil society groups not only to bolster their ability to use these mechanisms, but also to provide critical space for strategizing on the advancement of these rights at the national level, said Caroline Ouaffo Wafang, Regional gender adviser, UN Human Rights Regional Office for West Africa.

“Civil society actors have an important role to play in ensuring that human rights rules are respected by authorities,” Ouaffo said. “This workshop also gave the group a chance to discuss common challenges and perspectives, such as how to reduce inequalities in access to basic health care services, the need for harmonization of national legislation with international standards, and the effective implementation of national legislation.”

The training has helped NGOs in raising awareness on reproductive and sexual health rights, said Oumou Touré, from the Coalition of Women’s Organizations of Mali. In Mali, Touré said attitudes toward cultural practices surrounding these issues need to be improved, particularly at the governmental level.

“Governments are reluctant, and there is misunderstanding and misinterpretation, despite clear legal standards,” she said. “So the work of civil society must put pressure on the State to respect its commitments in line with international recommendations.”

The workshop resulted in the development of a sub-regional platform for cooperation on sexual and reproductive health and rights. The platform will allow the different organizations to share information across countries and groups on the mechanisms and how they are being used.

For Mariama Moussa, president of SOS for Women and Children Victims of Violence in Niger, the new platform will help support the work her organization undertakes to tackle one of the country’s biggest problems – early marriage. In Niger, 75 percent of the women who marry do so before the age of 18, she said. She believed the human rights mechanisms will help them better expose this problem.

“We hope to prepare a report very soon,” she said. “In this regard, we will reach out to other civil society organizations to share the information we have gained through this workshop.”

4 August 2015

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