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Why we can’t talk about SRHR without talking about human rights

Crowd of protestors rallying to support human rights

By Sunniva Haberg, Youth Advisor

As human beings, we are vulnerable to exploitation from others, either other people with more power than ourselves, our government or other institutions. Through history, people all over the world have experienced mass-exploitation through war and oppression, and more individual exploitation as a result of cultural and social norms placing us on a ladder of power, where we can’t necessarily make decisions about our own lives as we want to, not even decide what is best for ourselves. As a result of some of these historical events, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written. Most of us are familiar with these human rights, and can mention at least some of them.

When these rights concern our sexual and reproductive health, we often name them sexual and reproductive rights. They are human rights nonetheless. And this is the important part. Because even though we might live in a context where cultural and social norms might tell us otherwise, just by being a person, you do have some sexual and reproductive rights. These include deciding if you want to have children, with who you wish to have them, and how many. They also include deciding if you want to have sex, when you want to have sex and with whom. Whether you can actually decide this for yourself or not, unfortunately often depends on the cultural norms around you. Maybe you are a woman married to a much older man, and you experience that you don’t have much to say about decisions in your household. Maybe you are a man raised in a community where having many children is a status marker, but you cannot really support a big family economically, or you simply would have liked a smaller family.

Simply by being alive, you also have the right to have a good health, and a right to information according to the human rights. This includes access to health services and information concerning your sexual and reproductive health. Yet many women die in childbirth every year and experience obstetric fistula because they must give birth unattended or with absence of skilled health professionals. Many young girls miss school during their menstruation and lack of sanitary pads, many young men and women contract sexually transmitted diseases and infections that could easily have been prevented with the correct information and access to contraceptives.

Even though the human rights are universal and unconditional on paper, real life poses a very different scenario. It is up to each country to incorporate human rights into their laws and regulations, and this is done with varying success around the world. We still have a long way to go before the final R in SRHR is a reality for all. Defending our human rights also include defending SRHR.

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