On September 22nd, during the 30th session of the Human Rights Council, we co-hosted a side event with the Sexual Rights Initiative (SRI) to discuss protection gaps around sexual rights. The five panelists discussed the nature and causes of existing protection gaps in sexual rights, and gave recommendations to further protections for all individuals in the field of sexuality.
Naureen Shameem of AWID made the case for applying an intersectional lens to sexual rights, and for recognizing the cross-over between religious fundamentalisms and violations of sexual rights.
- Without an intersectional approach sexual rights as addressed at the UN will inevitably focus on the privileged and visible, and ignore the more marginalized.
- In fundamentalist contexts, women’s bodies—always seen as carriers of culture and honor—become the site of religious and political control
- Violations of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and sexual freedoms have been named by WHRDs as some of the top impacts of fundamentalisms
- Lack of space to discuss sexuality, unsafe abortion, denial of HIV treatment, and a range of acts of “culturally-justified violence against women” are just some of the deleterious effects of fundamentalisms on sexual rights.
- Changes in data collection practices to reflect a holistic approach, collaboration between Treaty Bodies and joint reports by Special Procedures are some of the ways the UN could tackle existing protection gaps.
- The Human Rights Council should recognize the intersections of sexual rights with its regular items of work (such as discrimination against women, violence against women, disability and economic rights)
Naureen’s presentation: Download PDF
Frances Raday gave an overview of the situation of sexual rights from her position as member of the Working Group on the Issue of Discrimination Against Women in Law and Practice.
- Violations of women's sexual rights are deeply ingrained in society’s patriarchal attitudes to women's sexuality
- States have an obligation to provide affordable sexual and reproductive services including contraceptives and abortion
- States have an obligation to take concrete steps to address the sexual and reproductive health rights of adolescent girls in particular
- Third party authorization rules—such as requiring parental permission to obtain contraceptives—undermine adolescents’ agency and autonomy.
- The Human Rights Council and the Committees on the Rights of the Child and the Elimination of Discrimination against Women have stated that third party authorization rules infringe human rights, but many national laws retain them.
- These rules also often enshrine gender discrimination, such as when married adolescent girls need to obtain consent from their husbands—viewed as their guardians—in order to access services.
- Far too few adolescents receive adequate sexuality education. For example, only 40% of young people have accurate knowledge about HIV transmission.
- A minimum age of consent that is too high can act as a barrier in accessing sexual and reproductive health information and services, as young people fear that they will be reported.
- The Sustainable Development Goals do not do enough to address the sexual rights of adolescents
Patrick Eba of UNAIDS gave insight into protection gaps in relation to the rights of sex workers
- Protection gaps cost lives: HIV and acts of violence are behind the deaths of many sex workers
- Sex workers are a key population being left behind in the effort to combat HIV, due in part to a lack of program and funder interest. In Myanmar, 80% of sex workers are living with HIV but only 14% of the HIV budget targets them.
- Criminalization is a major barrier to sex workers accessing services. In some countries, such as Kenya, the U.S. and Zimbabwe, condoms are used as evidence to prosecute sex workers.
- Sex workers must be at the forefront of any discussion about their rights. Empowering sex workers restores rights and dignity and supports protection efforts.
Fernando D’Elio of the Sexual Rights Initiative and Akahatá focused on protection gaps as related to sexual and gender diversity, giving examples from his recent research
- The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) narrows the focus down to SRHR; human rights related to sexual and gender diversity are then left to be addressed by other stakeholder submissions
- UN agencies, mechanisms and procedures rarely submit information about sexual and gender diversity in their reports. When they do include these issues there is a tendency to focus on “burning issues” such as criminalization, violence, or hate crimes.
- Discrimination and less obvious rights violations that affect people lives are overlooked, even though they relate to fundamental rights such as the right to education, health, freedom of assembly, and bodily autonomy.
- Realization of the rights of sexual and gender minorities cannot be achieved without an open and informed conversation