28 May is International Day of Action for Women’s Health. It has been commemorated since 1987 by women’s health advocates and their communities, and has been crucial in building the global Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) movement.
Since 1987, there have many improvements in SRHR for women. Millions more women have access to contraception and, by agreeing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, nation states across the world have acknowledged that SRHR, as well as gender equality and women’s empowerment, are crucial to long-term sustainable development.
Despite this progress, hundreds of millions of women worldwide still lack access to contraception and to safe and legal abortion services. They are thus deprived of their fundamental rights and the autonomy to choose when, or whether, they have children.
This imposes huge health costs on women — with 800 dying every day due to pregnancy or childbirth-related complications — and has damaging effects on women’s empowerment.
As stated by the May 28 coalition:
“When states fail to fully recognize sexual and reproductive rights, they not only compromise women’s health: they both tolerate and endorse institutional and structural violence towards women and girls, abusing their human rights and perpetuating their exclusion.”
Failure to recognise and protect women’s SRHR also negatively impacts sustainable development, because it contributes to rapid population growth. Total global population levels are expected to increase by a further one billion every 15 years of this century. This unsustainable growth strains resources, hinders poverty-reduction efforts, is a major contributor to environmental degradation and will make all the SDGs much more difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.
According to Simon Ross, Chief Executive of Population Matters: “If we are to make progress on women’s empowerment, confront unsustainable population growth, and ensure that the entire sustainable development framework is achievable, SRHR must be protected and strengthened.”