Faith-based Approaches to Sexual and Reproductive Health from a Human Rights Perspective
The United Nations Population Fund organised, from April 9th to 13th, the 51st Session of the United Nations Commission on Population and Development (CPD) 2018 – Sustainable cities, human mobility and international migration. As part of the programme, for two days, a side event took place during the conference to discuss women and children’s health. The event was co-sponsored by Islamic Relief USA, ACT Alliance, Justitia et Pax, and World Council of Churches. The main objective was bringing together religious leaders and faith based organizations, as they play an important role in health service delivery, as well as are the first responders in emergencies, to take forward the agenda of sexual and reproductive health rights. The outcome included having an interactive and respectful dialogue which would showcase some successful interventions by FBOs in dealing with the nexus between Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), religion and migration dynamics.
Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji was present representing the Divine Shakti Foundation (DSF) and the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA), where she is, respectively, President and Secretary-General. She affirmed that sexual and reproductive health are not only limited to issues of abortion, contraception, LGBT rights, etc. “Rather,” she said, “this is a thread that weaves through the very core of women’s humanity. It touches the very core of the right to live with dignity, the right to go to the bathroom as and when needed, the right to have clean water to drink, to bathe and to keep oneself clean during menstruation. We cannot have reproductive health without having the very foundation of health that comes from access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene.” On the subject of sex-selective abortion, she emphasized that this is not a religious issue. “It is not religious leaders saying ‘boys are better than girls.’ Rather it is a situation of economic hardship borne in which boys are seen as assets and girls as liabilities. The solution is to work hand in hand with government and intergovernmental agencies and other civil society organizations to lift these families out of poverty.”
She also mentioned the connection between taking care of women and taking care of the earth. “According to the UN’s statistics, by 2040 there will be between 24-700 million refugees due to lack of water and climate change. When people are forced to migrate, it is always women’s and children’s health which suffers. Access to water and to toilets is severely limited, if existent at all. For this reason, as we come together in the name of protecting the rights of women to their own reproductive health, we must also remember to protect the rights of Mother Earth and Mother Nature, without which the situation for all of us — women, children and men — becomes very dire.”
Dr. Daniel Legutke, from the German Commission of Justice and Peace also stated, “Sexual and Reproductive health and rights should be understood in line with the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Respect for human dignity is the core value underneath human rights. Religious communities and faith based organizations have to constantly remind the government and other stakeholders that the right to health, like any other human right, has its ultimate basis in this due recognition of the inherent dignity of all members of the human family.”
Important attendees included:
- Dr. Ramiz Alakbarov, Director of Programmes and Chief Strategist of the United Nations Population Fund
- Alaana Armitage , Regional Director for United Nations Population Fund for Eastern Europe and Central Asia
- Dr. Azza Karam, Head, United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Religion and Development
- Dr. Daniel Legutke, Office for Human Rights for the German Commission of Justice and Peace
- Bishop Stephen Kaziimba, Uganda
- Hendrica Okondo, World YWCA Global Manager for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
- Dr. Lydia Mwaniki, Director of Theology, Family Life and Gender Justice in The All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC)
- Monica Willard, Representative to the United Nations from the United Religions Initiative
- High level representatives from World Council of Churches, Act Alliance and Islamic Relief Worldwide
Government representatives from Kenya, Mozambique, Botswana, Angola, Zambia, Tunisia, Costa Rica, Sierra Leone, Uruguay, Chile, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam and Sweden as well as representation from faith based civil society through the ACT delegation and representation from the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) civil society were amongst those invited to participate in this important dialogue.