HRC adopts resolution on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity in the face of attacks on women’s SRHR

Published on October 05, 2016

Statement Co-Produced by the Sexual Rights Initiative & Centre for Reproductive Rights

Human Rights Council adopts resolution on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights in the face of attacks on women’s sexual and reproductive rights

Today, the Council adopted by consensus its biannual resolution on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity. The resolution represents an advancement to women’s human rights on several counts.

The resolution:

  • highlights the linkages between human rights obligations related to ending preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and the Sustainable Development Goals and the Secretary General’s Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health;
  • recognizes the obligation of States Parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to take steps to achieve the full realization of the right to health, including sexual and reproductive health as an integral part of this right;
  • recognizes that sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, in accordance with the Program of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome of their review conferences are integral to the progressive realization of the right to health;
  • upholds the principles of formal and substantive equality within comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care and services, while including the need to address intersectioning and multiple forms of discrimination;
  • reaffirms women’s right to have control over, and to decide freely and responsibly on, matters related to their sexuality, including their sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence;
  • recognizes the importance of identifying, within the SDGs framework, appropriate national indicators in reducing maternal mortality and morbidity with full respect of States relevant human rights obligations and commitments;
  • recognizes the large disparities in the maternal mortality rate between and within countries, between women with different incomes, between rural women and women living in urban areas;
  • notes with concern the higher rates of maternal mortality and complications in pregnancy and childbirth for adolescent girls under the age of 15;
  • recognizes the exacerbated risk of maternal mortality and morbidity in armed conflict and humanitarian emergencies;
  • identifies unsafe abortion, poverty, lack of access to services, discrimination against women, gender inequality and gender-based stereotypes as factors that can lead to MMM;
  • urges states to address these interlinked causes utilizing a human rights-based approach;
  • requests states to integrate a human-rights based perspective, addressing the impact that discrimination against women has on maternal mortality and morbidity, in maternal mortality and morbidity initiatives;
  • calls upon states to assess accountability mechanisms, where they exist, while ensuring access to justice for women and girls and to build accountability into interventions and strategies;
  • calls on states to ensure the meaningful participation of women and girls in all decisions that affect them;
  • calls upon all relevant actors to strengthen their efforts to reduce preventable maternal mortality and morbidity including through, amongst others, the application of the OHCHR technical guidance;
  • Decides to convene a panel at the 34th session of the human rights council on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity as a human rights priority for all states including in the context of the implementation of the 2030 agenda.

However, fourteen amendments tabled by Russia aimed to significantly reduce the potential advances in the resolution. five amendments went forward to a vote targeting references to the Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights’ General Comment 22 on the right to sexual and reproductive health and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ General Comment 3 on women and girls with disabilities, and the call for States to remove third party authorization for health services (even though this was agreed language from a Human Rights Council resolution A/HRC/RES/32/4 just three months before), insisting on the qualifiers of the International Conference on Population and Development and Beijing Platform for Action for agreed language on sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, and even sought to change the title of the proposed panel on maternal mortality and sexual and reproductive health and rights.

These five amendments were voted on and accepted by a majority of States in the Council. While the text remains strong and represents important advances in several areas, the number of amendments put forward and their acceptance by the Council members illustrates the continued challenges to advancing women’s rights to equality, health, life, information, privacy and control the number and spacing of children, among others. It is especially disappointing that the Council would backtrack on language agreed only three months ago in the Elimination of Discrimination against Women resolution at the June session regarding the removal of third party authorization for information and health services.

Despite these longstanding contestations of women’s human rights, the Council has made significant strides with regards to sexual and reproductive rights over the past ten years. The ambitious resolution put forward by the core sponsors is a testament to this progress and demonstrates the potential for even greater gains in the future.

The adopted resolution on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights reminds States that 303,000 women and girls died from pregnancy related complications in 2015 alone and that many more suffered from serious and sometimes life-long injuries. Ensuring women’s human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled is key to eliminating preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and must be central to all efforts in this regard.

As the highest political body dedicated to the promotion of human rights, the Council has a duty to move beyond the status quo and advance women’s rights, championing the core principle of the universality of human rights. The Council must demonstrate the political will and leadership necessary to address this urgent global challenge and to work together to meaningfully address preventable maternal mortality and morbidity through the realization of women’s human rights.