Activists and women rights’ advocates from 15 countries urged the need for universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in Pakistan and announced the start of the SRHR campaign in Asia Pacific. It would be launched in Pakistan next week, The Express Tribune has learnt.
This campaign is part of the project Strengthening the Networking, Knowledge Management and Advocacy Capacities of an Asia-Pacific Network for SRHR funded by the European Union. It is being implemented by the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW) with partners. The campaign was launched in Malaysia and Sri Lanka on May 13. The Asia-Pacific countries include Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.
The implementing partner in Pakistan will be Shirkat Gah, a women’s resource centre. Shirkat Gah Coordinator Communications Samreen Shahbaz told The Express Tribune that although Pakistan was a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), an overview of the situation of sexual and reproductive rights in the country did not suggest positive outcomes.
Shahbaz added that sexual and reproductive rights were an important pillar of human rights, and negative outcomes reflected poorly on the overall human rights situation in the country. “It is crucial that our government makes a strong commitment to include universal access to SRHR in its post-2015 development agenda.” she said.
She said the campaign was a collective effort where local implementing partners aimed to push governments to recognise SRHR as a basic human right. She said it intended to urge decision makers to improve SRHR programmes to ensure universal and equitable access to quality and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services.
SRHR programme officer Maryum Siddiqui at Shirkat Gah told The Express Tribune that Pakistan was the sixth most populous country in the world, and yet sexual and reproductive health and rights concerns of the population in general and of the youth in particular were not being addressed at the policy level or in terms of service delivery.
“Traditional and cultural norms consider sexual and reproductive rights to be a taboo subject. A case in point is marriage before individuals reach the age of consent. They suffer multiple health-related, psychological and socioeconomic repercussions as a result,” said Siddiqui.
She said another crucial issue, inextricably linked to sexual and reproductive rights, was violence against women. She said they aimed to start an online debate about the larger SRHR framework to increase public visibility of SRHR issues.
ARROW Executive Director Siva Thanenthiran said, “It is crucial that universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) is achieved in Asia-Pacific and that SRHR becomes an integral part of the review of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Twenty years after governments agreed to the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action (ICPD POA), gaps remain. High maternal mortality ratios, high adolescent birth rates and high unmet need for contraception, are all indicative of low SRHR indicators in the region.”Thanenthiran added that the attainment of SRHR was obstructed by the impact of religious and political conservatism, fundamentalism and extremism, and increased vulnerabilities to migration, climate change, disasters, conflict, displacement, and poverty and food insecurity. Additionally, 55 per cent people in the world who required these services and whose sexual and reproductive rights needed to be affirmed lived in the Asia-Pacific region, she said.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 15th, 2014.