As we celebrate International Human Rights Day, there are still those around the world who think that reproductive rights are not human rights. Yet, I wonder, are there those who still believe the world is flat?
For me, it is a simple concept: every person should be able to make decisions about her or his body. I see that in the young women and men Pathfinder International works with every day.
A few weeks ago in India, I met a young woman, just 17, who stood up in front of a large group and said, “I think it’s a right for me to stay in school and marry later and have children later. If you think I am too young to vote, why am I not too young to marry?”
These are the moments when you really feel how important rights are. Her voice resonated deeply with me.
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Here is a young girl who wants to make decisions about her future. How can she do that if she doesn’t have the right to stay in school, delay marriage, and then choose if, when, and how often to have children? How can she live the life she wants to live if at some point in the future she might face death during pregnancy due to lack to maternal health care, or risk of HIV infection if she does not feel empowered to negotiate condom use with her partner?
We have made great strides in improving access to sexual and reproductive health care, and more are being made every day. From the London Summit on Family Planning, where thousands gathered to commit future investments in family planning, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s strong advocacy to ensure US leadership in global health that includes reproductive rights as human rights, to the work that’s happening on the ground in myriad countries around the globe to provide contraception, improve maternal health, ensure HIV prevention and treatment, and much more—progress is happening.
Yet on this important day, we cannot ignore the persistent barriers that plague our work. For what seems incontrovertible to so many of us, remains elusive to far too many.
Barriers still exist culturally for women to be able to delay marriage or make decisions about contraception. Barriers still exist around service delivery, whether because health centers are too far from a community, providers are not well-trained, or stock-outs of critical medicines and contraceptives persist. Barriers even exist for men, who may be stymied by traditional gender roles.
Establishing reproductive rights as human rights for all should be a given in the 21st century. There should be no controversy. And thankfully, because of some amazing advocates, it’s within reach.
One way we can ensure that message stays strong is by continued support from the US Government. In honor of International Human Rights Day, please join me in thanking Secretary Clinton for her commitment to reproductive rights as human rights, and calling on the State Department to remain steadfast in supporting reproductive health care.
This International Human Rights Day, my hope is that in the near future, the idea that sexual and reproductive health and rights were not always a given will seem simply unbelievable. Almost as hard to understand as people once believing the world was flat.