Sima Samar: Accessing reproductive health is a basic human right
Every woman must be able to access reproductive health services, 2012 Laureate Sima Samar told UN experts on Friday. She warned that Afghan women were at risk of losing access to contraception and other essential health services as the country faced growing insecurity.
Samar, who is a prominent Afghan human and women’s rights activist, spoke to the UN Working Group on discrimination against women and girls, a panel of experts that met during the 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“Access to reproductive health is a basic human right, it is not a luxury,” Samar told the working group during a discussion on women’s sexual and reproductive health rights in crisis.
She drew attention to the rising threats to women in her country, where the situation has gotten increasingly difficult as the United States is in the process of withdrawing its military forces after 20 years of war.
“In Afghanistan, facilities providing free contraception and reproductive health services are few and mostly run by foreign aid,” Samar said. “Yet, the military withdrawal of the US and others creates uncertainty about the future and a reduction of the resources available to such programmes.”
Samar called for continued assistance to women and girls by countries providing aid to Afghanistan.
She also warned that the ongoing peace process in the country was not inclusive enough, which risks leaving women behind.
“Afghan women were at the forefront of efforts for peace and stability,” Samar said. “Yet only four are sitting at the table of the current peace talks. There is a risk of seeing women’s rights compromised in the peace process.”
The virtual UN discussion centred on the working group’s recent report on women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health rights in crisis. In it, the UN experts warned that being able to exercise one’s right to reproductive health was a basic condition for living with dignity. However, many women don’t get to exercise this right.
“The sexual and reproductive health rights of women and girls are systematically neglected, not because of a lack of resources or technical knowledge but because of the widespread disregard for women’s dignity, bodily integrity and autonomy,” the report said.
“The failure to ensure the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and girls is discriminatory and constitutes a major crisis in itself.”
Samar received the Right Livelihood Award in 2012 “for her longstanding and courageous dedication to human rights, especially the rights of women, in one of the most complex and dangerous regions in the world.”