Know your rights!

21 July 2010

Rights are the key for people to break out of the poverty trap. Put simply, respect for human rights demands inclusion, demands that everyone gets a say, demands that those in power protect people from threats to their security.

Midwife checks 17 year old Aisseta (NOT REAL NAME) first time mother to be, she is in the first stages of labour. Lankoué, Burkina Faso, West Africa

A midwife checks 17 year old Aisseta*, a first time mother to be, who is in the first stages of labour, Lankoué, Burkina Faso, West Africa. *not her real name

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
“We all, as members of society, have the right to realize the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for our dignity” 

There are specific rights we have that should protect women in pregnancy and childbirth.

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including...medical care...motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance.”
Article 25, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

"The state parties to the present covenant recognise the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health."
Article 12, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Every human being is entitled to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health conducive to living a life in dignity,” according to the UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights,

The right to health does not mean the right to be healthy; good health cannot be guaranteed by governments. However, it does impose on governments an obligation to create the conditions in which everyone can be as healthy as possible.
The right to health means that health care facilities, services and goods have to be available, accessible, acceptable and of good quality.

Availability – functioning public health and health care facilities, good and services must be available..
Accessibility – health facilities, goods and services must be physically and economically accessible to everyone without discrimination.
Acceptability – all health facilities, goods and services must be respectful of medical ethics and culturally appropriate.
Quality – health facilities, goods and services must be scientifically and medically appropriate and of good quality. This requires, among other things, skilled medical personnel, scientifically approved and unexpired drugs and hospital equipment.
Maternal health is part of the right to health. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states that “special protection should be accorded to mothers during a reasonable period before and after childbirth”.

Governments have an obligation not only to ensure health care but also other essential conditions for health, including access to adequate food, nutrition, sanitation and housing.

The right to health is closely related to other rights, notably the right to life and the right to non-discrimination.

Preventable maternal mortality is recognized as a violation of the right to life. This right to life is protected in a number of international human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which states that every human being has the inherent right to life and that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of their right to life.
The UN’s Human Rights Committee has noted that protecting the right to life “requires that States adopt positive measures” to safeguard people from preventable loss of life.

The right to enjoy human rights without discrimination is a fundamental principle underlying international human rights law. International law prohibits discrimination on a broad range of factors, including race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, language, national or social origin, ethnicity or Indigenous or other status.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) - the body that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination - talks about this right in relation to health:
“States parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee The right of everyone, without distinction as to race, color, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of the... right to public Health [and] medical care.”

Sexual and reproductive rights are grounded in human rights that are recognized in international human rights treaties, regional standards, national constitutions and other relevant human rights standards. The realization of sexual and reproductive rights requires respect for rights relating to physical and mental integrity, including the rights to life, to liberty and security of person; to freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; and to privacy and respect for family life; as well as rights related to freedom of conscience and expression and freedom from discrimination. These rights correspond directly to the principles underpinning sexual and reproductive rights – the physical and mental integrity of the individual, his or her autonomy, and the principle of non-discrimination on grounds such as gender, race, national origin, sexual orientation,
disability or socio-economic status.

Reproductive rights mean that all people have the right to decide freely the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so. They also guarantee all people the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health free of discrimination, coercion and violence. These rights relate to access to reproductive health services and information, safe pregnancy and childbirth, prevention and response to unwanted pregnancy, and freedom from forced sterilization, contraception or abortion.

Sexual rights include the right of all people, free of coercion, discrimination and violence, to the highest attainable standard of sexual health, including access to sexual and reproductive health care services.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees the right of every citizen to take part in the conduct of public affairs. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has stressed that the right to participation must be an integral part of government policies, programmes and strategies. It has highlighted, for example, the vital role of participation in ensuring the effective provision of health services for all. In order for active participation to be meaningful, states must also fulfil a number of other rights and duties, including the rights to freedom of expression and association, and the duty to ensure the conditions in which human rights defenders can carry out their work.

It is part of a government’s obligations to protect the right to health of women and girls and address all barriers to access to healthcare. Governments should also ensure there are efficient accountability mechanisms and remedies for women and girls whose right to health has been violated.

Monitoring and accountability are central human rights principles which need to be in place for the realisation of women’s rights to sexual, reproductive and maternal health. There should be effective, transparent and accessible monitoring, accountability and redress mechanisms, at the national and international levels, in relation to the public and private health sectors.

Where particular obstacles to women’s access to care are identified, accountability requires redress. Redress has many forms, such as public apology, amendments to laws or policies, compensation, and others.



Return to the Maternal Mortality Evidence Suitcase

  Return to the Maternal Mortality Evidence Suitcase



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