Maternal Health, Sexual and Reproductive Rights, and The Millennium Development Goals

21 July 2010

The Millennium Development Goals came onto the world stage over 10 years ago, promising some of the world’s most impoverished and excluded communities a new dawn in a new millennium. Since then, some progress has been made, but it is now painfully clear that this has been uneven, and that without increased efforts, the targets set for 2015 will not be met.

 Rasmata, 25 with her newborn baby. Yalgado Hospital, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, June

Rasmata, 25 with her newborn baby. Yalgado Hospital, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, June


The challenge now is urgent and clear – to make that framework effective for the billions striving to free themselves from poverty and to claim their rights. The respect and promotion of all human rights – including economic, social and cultural rights – are crucial if people living in poverty are to improve their lives.

The message for world leaders is clear:  they must act now to put human rights at the centre of efforts to improve the lives of those living in poverty.

The MDGs focus on eight areas for which there are specific goals and targets, mainly to be met by 2015:

  • extreme poverty and hunger;
  • universal primary education;
  • gender equality and empowering women;
  • child mortality;
  • maternal health;
  • HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases;
  • environmental sustainability; and
  • developing a global partnership for development.

Governments must ensure all MDG initiatives are consistent with human rights; address discrimination experienced by women and any marginalized groups; set national targets for delivery; fulfill the right of participation and strengthen mechanisms for accountability.

Improving maternal health is an area that has seen far too little progress. The MDGs fail to take into account a variety of underlying factors that contribute to maternal deaths and injuries.

Human rights issues such as early or forced marriage, violence against women and girls prevents women from making decisions about their own lives.

The MDGs also do not pay sufficient attention to sexual and reproductive rights. From Peru to Sierra Leone, the report illustrates the barriers women in poverty face when trying to access maternal healthcare.

The human rights asks:
Exclusion and discrimination are key factors in driving and deepening poverty. They prevent people accessing services, resources and programmes, and undermine efforts to tackle poverty. Freedom from discrimination is a central principle of international human rights law. Laws and practices must ensure that full and equal enjoyment of rights extends to all, including members of marginalized or excluded groups.

It is essential that all MDG initiatives reflect the commitments made by states to women’s human rights and gender equality. They should also focus on women’s experience of poverty and address discrimination and other human rights violations faced by women and girls, which drive and deepen poverty.

International human rights law guarantees the right to participation, including the rights to freedom of expression, information and association, of affected communities. Participation and genuine consultation are prerequisites for effective planning and delivery and must be guaranteed in all national and international efforts to meet the MDGs.

The implementation of the MDGs between now and 2015 can be made consistent with human rights standards. Any revised or new global framework to address poverty after 2015 must incorporate essential human rights elements. For a full list and explanation of these, see From Promises to Delivery: Putting human rights at the heart of the Millennium Development Goals


Return to the Maternal Mortality Evidence Suitcase

  Return to the Maternal Mortality Evidence Suitcase



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