What Is SRHR?

The term “sexual and reproductive health and rights” (SRHR) was explored nearly 20 years ago at the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD)11 and the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCW)12 held in Beijing. Building on the World Health Organisation's definition of health, the Cairo Programme defines reproductive health as:

a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and...not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and processes. Reproductive health therefore implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so. Implicit in this last condition are the right of men and women to be informed and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning of their choice, as well as other methods of their choice for regulation of fertility which are not against the law, and the right of access to appropriate health-care services that will enable women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth and provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant (para 72).

Furthermore, the Cairo Programme of Action clearly spells out the concept of reproductive rights in Chapter 7 which states in part that such rights "rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of reproductive and sexual health. It also includes the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion, and violence as expressed in human rights documents.13

While governments would not name sexual rights or sexual orientation explicitly at the Beijing Women's Conference, the result and the process proved more useful than anticipated. A change in norms had been underway in international law since then, as evidenced by the growing body of documentation and commentary on these issues at the UN and in regional human rights forums. The Platform for Action, which was adopted by 189 delegations in Beijing, reaffirmed the Cairo Programme's definition of reproductive health and advances women's wider interests, especially in the area of sexual rights. Paragraph 96 states:
"The human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. Equal relationships between women and men in matters of sexual relations and reproduction, including full respect for the integrity of the person, require mutual respect, consent and shared responsibility for sexual behaviour and its consequences."
While there were reservations expressed in relation to the sections on reproductive health, the FWCW broke new ground in such areas as violence against women, elevating the issue from a private domestic concern to a level of public policy, and broadening the definition to include acts previously justified in the name of culture and tradition; women’s rights as human rights and women’s sexual rights as part of her human rights, and the rights of the girl-child, to name but a few.14
SRHR as Human Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the agreed treaties establish that human rights apply to everyone and that no one should be excluded. They identify that SRHR entails not only the absence of reproductive or sexual illnesses, but also the full enjoyment and well-being of sexual health.15

SRHR, as part of human rights, have the following principles of human rights described in the Universal Declaration and outlined by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA):

  • Universality: They apply equally to all persons and they are the rights of every individual, there are no exceptions. This means that SRHR apply to everyone, including all children, adolescents and young people.
  • Inalienability: This means that you can never lose your rights. You have them, from the moment you are born, because you are human.
  • Indivisibility: No right is more important than another right, they are all connected and you cannot have one without the other. Denial of one right impedes the enjoyment of the other rights.
  • Interdependency and interrelation: The fulfilment of one right may depend in part or in whole on the fulfilment of other rights.


Female genital mutilation (FGM): Comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for...


Adolescence is the developmental phase or period that takes place in all individuals between childhood and adulthood. Adolescence may appear to begin at different times and occur...

Girls' Experiences

At present, these adolescent girls – who are at greatest risk and have the greatest needs – are often ‘falling through the net,’ and not accessing SRHR information and services at...

The Implications

The full value of investing in SRHR has been underestimated as its wide ranging benefits have been largely unrecognised, particularly to society as a whole. The direct medical...

Legal Frameworks

Adolescent girls worldwide face a wide range of violations to their SRHR. These human rights violations often involve tremendous physical and psychological pain and arguably rise...

Global Efforts

Consensus documents and conference agreements, expressing political will to implement certain decisions but not legally binding, are strong advocacy tools that can influence the...

11. UNITED NATIONS POPULATION FUND. (1994). International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action. [Online] Available: http://www.unfpa.org/webdav/site/global/shared/documents/publications/2004/icpd_eng.pdf

12. UN WOMEN. (1995). Fourth World Conference on Women. [Online] Available from: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/platform/

13. GIRARD, F. Negotiating Sexual Rights and Sexual Orientation at the UN. Sexpolitics: Reports from the Frontlines [Online] p. 311-358 Available from: http://www.sxpolitics.org/frontlines/book/pdf/capitulo9_united_nations.pdf

14. LICUANAN, P (2006). After Beijing + 10: The Road Ahead. [Online] Miriam College, Philippines, South East Asia Women’s Watch (SEAWWatch) Available from: http://www.google.nl/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0ahUKEwj9svHKh6zMAhVJFMAKHQ0vBlcQFggcMAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.capwip.org%2Fpaperscongress%2FAfter%2520Beijing%2520%2B%252010---The%2520Road%2520Ahead%2520tati%2520licuanan.doc&usg=AFQjCNGYIOgnRe-Mp3l9wb6hfoBI3T_tFA&bvm=bv.120551593,d.d24&cad=rja

15. YOUACT. (2008) Sexual and Reproductive health and rights of young people: A Rights-Based Perspective. European Youth Charter on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. [Online] Available from: http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/youth/Source/Training/Study_sessions/2008_YouAct_Charter_en.pdf