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Reproductive Rights and the 2030 Agenda

By Sarah Chamberlain

In the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, “ensuring that no one is left behind” is a fundamental principle. When it comes to true inclusion, it’s crucial to address the problems surrounding the very root of life itself - reproduction.

During the first week of the High Level Political Forum (HLPF), two side events were combined to make a panel discussion worth remembering. Titled “From Sideline to Centre: Using the 2030 Agenda to Tackle Sexual Reproductive Coercion” and “Integrating Goal 5 Through the Elimination of Child and Forced Marriage: A Strategy to End Poverty and Promote Global Prosperity”, they provided a safe space in which people could speak openly and passionately about the challenges facing women and girls today. Co-sponsored by International Planned Parenthood Association, OutRight Action International, and Zonta International, the primary theme of the discussion was how the aims of the 2030 Agenda could be achieved if sexual/reproductive information and care were universally available.

According to Patricia da Silva, of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, “Governments have a legal duty to make sure that their citizens have universal access to reproductive care as outlined in the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action.” This document, which was adopted in 1994, set out a comprehensive framework for development; what makes it exceptional, though is its acknowledgement of the importance of reproductive health, rights, and education in the advancement of all development-related goals. During the discussion, the Guttmacher Institute’s Alanna Galati provided this harrowing recent statistic: there are roughly 214 million women in developing regions that want to avoid pregnancy but are not using contraceptives. This is due to many factors, including cultural norms, limited access to education, and lack of access to the contraceptives themselves. If women and girls don’t have to spend their lives raising children that they didn’t want or plan to have, then they are more likely to do things like get educated and contribute to the economy. In short, women’s access to reproductive health care has a direct impact upon development and, thus, the achievement of the 2030 Agenda.

Unfortunately, the situation is even more dire for younger girls; while they also lack access to resources which would help them prevent pregnancy, they have to deal with the crushing weight of social stigma. Not only does this prevent them from seeking and receiving reproductive health services, it also prevents them from receiving any education about it. When this issue was raised during the discussion, someone asked, “What about sex education in schools?” In response, Hayley Gleeson, of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, stepped in to point out that, since one third of all young people are not in secondary education, addressing the problem in schools is not enough on its own. Issues like this underline the importance of civil society, whose complementary efforts affect populations at a grassroots level.

When member states adopted the 2030 Agenda, they agreed to “equity” and “inclusion” as driving principles. With data from more extensive research and a “can-do” attitude, countries have no choice but to view women and girls as more than just targets or beneficiaries; with the future of humankind in our hands, we are also partners (and must be treated as such).

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