Respect, Protect, and Fulfill Sexual Health and Rights

When sexual health and rights are violated, girls and women are unable to fulfill their potential. A world without fear, stigma, or discrimination drives equality and progress for all.

The World Health Organization defines sexual health as a “state of physical, emotional, mental, and social wellbeing in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction, or infirmity.” While sexual health and rights are often linked to reproductive health, a clear understanding of sexual health and rights, independent of reproductive health, is critical to informing effective and inclusive policy and advocacy strategies. Ensuring sexual health and rights is a prerequisite for achieving gender equality for girls and women.

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  • • The right to personal autonomy and bodily integrity

  • • The right to a safe, satisfying sexual life, free of discrimination

  • • The right to privacy

  • • The right to sexual health

  • Current laws against sexual orientation increase stigma and violate human rights

  • 6.9 million women in developing countries were treated for complications from unsafe abortions in 2012

  • In developing regions, 8 in 10 women with curable sexually transmitted infections do not receive treatment

Investing in girls and women creates a ripple effect that yields multiple benefits, not only for individual women, but also for families, communities, and countries. Developing laws and policies that protect individuals’ sexuality, together with comprehensive sexuality education and stigma-free health services, greatly improves health and wellbeing. Integrating sexual rights into healthcare has a positive impact on HIV infection rates, mental health, and social equity.

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Solutions in Action

  • Advocating for LGBTI Rights Through Tergo in Ukraine
    Case Study

    Advocating for LGBTI Rights Through Tergo in Ukraine

    Advocating for LGBTI Rights Through Tergo in Ukraine

    As part of its LGBTI outreach in Ukraine, the NGO Fulcrum has established a support group called Tergo for parents of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. The organization strives for parents to be advocates, both socially and politically, and works to combat attitudes of pervasive homophobia and transphobia within the country. Tergo recently organized an international networking conference, bringing together peer groups from Poland, Malta, Russia, Moldova, and beyond. Following the 2013 wave of human rights protests and civil unrest in Ukraine, the group became established civil society activists, providing political advocacy and individual support.
  • Profamilia Promotes Sexual Health and Rights in Colombia
    Case Study

    Profamilia Promotes Sexual Health and Rights in Colombia

    Profamilia Promotes Sexual Health and Rights in Colombia

    In Colombia, Profamilia, a member organization of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), established a legal service for women to promote their sexual health and rights. Profamilia addresses issues such as discrimination, sexual orientation, abortion, STIs, informed consent, and gender-based violence. The organization uses human rights and law as tools to promote social change and advances partnerships among allies from the women’s movement, human rights organizations, and community-based groups. As a result of their work, the Ministry of Health has expanded guidelines for sexual and reproductive health services.
  • The ‘Men are Changing’ Study
    Case Study

    The ‘Men are Changing’ Study

    The ‘Men are Changing’ Study

    Within the IPPF research report, Men are Changing, a case study focused on promoting gender equality and positive masculinities for boys and men in Kenya, Zambia, Tanzania and Uganda demonstrated the importance of young men participating in the promotion of healthy sexual relationships, including safer sexual practices. The involvement of young men in sexual health and rights initiatives increased sexual and reproductive health promotion, use of sexual and reproductive health services, as well as use of HIV voluntary counseling and testing services. Additionally, the demand for sexual and reproductive health education and services grew, communication between young men and women improved, and the prevalence of STIs and school pregnancies across project areas decreased.
  • The Sonagachi Project in Kolkata
    Case Study

    The Sonagachi Project in Kolkata

    The Sonagachi Project in Kolkata

    The Sonagachi Project, in Kolkata, India, was an intervention project that sought to empower and protect sex workers and reduce their vulnerability to contracting HIV by creating social spaces for participation, community led projects and outreach, and organizing rallies and protests for rights and healthy behaviors. Interviews and focus groups with study participants revealed that a lack of control over material resources, exclusion from social participation, and a lack of control over their lives were key inhibitors to empowerment. The study surfaced strategies to reduce vulnerability of sex workers, including promoting the right to self-determination. The project has helped sex workers substantially increase control over their sexual health, as well as improve their living conditions and working environment; it also placed sex work issues on state and national policy agendas.

Policy Asks

  • Recognize — in policy, practice, and funding — the central role sexual health and rights play in health equity, human rights, and development, while ensuring the inclusion of these rights in all national policies.

  • Stop using criminal law to control people’s sexual health and rights and adopt appropriate laws and policies that respect, protect, and
    fulfill sexual health and rights for all, including youth.

  • Ensure that adequate legal systems upholding national policies focused on sexual health and rights are in place and establish a high-level governmental department for monitoring and accountability.

  • Establish comprehensive sexuality education in schools.

  • Enforce the integration of sexual health and rights frameworks within all programs for health providers emphasizing the importance of accessible, stigma free services for all, including marginalized groups, people living with disabilities, youth, and adolescents.

  • Ensure abortion is safe, legal, accessible, and affordable and that post-abortion care is available.

  • Engage men and boys in sexual health and rights initiatives.

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