Sexual Rights – Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights

And the class continues… Here is where it becomes more interesting…

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), sexual rights “protect all people’s rights to fulfill and express their sexuality and enjoy sexual health, with due regards for the rights of others, and within a framework of protection against discrimination”. Simply framed, sexual rights include the application of existing human rights to sexuality and sexual health (these two terms were defined in the Sexual Health post). Sexual Rights rest on the recognition that all individuals have the right – free of coercion, violence, and discrimination of any kind – to the highest attainable standard of sexual health to:

  • Pursue a satisfying, safe and pleasurable sexual life;
  • Have control over and decide freely, and with due regard for the rights of others, on matters related to their sexuality, reproduction, sexual orientation, bodily integrity, choice of partner and gender identity; and
  • The services, education, and information, including comprehensive sexuality education, that inform their decisions on the above.

Some of the critical rights recognized in national and international laws that ensure sexual health include:

  • The rights to equality and non-discrimination
  • The right to be free from torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment
  • The right to privacy
  • The rights to the highest attainable standard of health (including sexual health) and social security
  • The right to marry and to found a family and enter into marriage with the free and full consent of the intending spouses, and to equality in and at the dissolution of marriage
  • The right to decide the number and spacing of one’s children
  • The rights to information, as well as education
  • The rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and
  • The right to an effective remedy for violations of fundamental rights.

Despite all these instruments and policies, sexual rights, especially the sexual rights of women and girls, are often violated. Moreover, there are numerous human rights related to sexuality, which address a wide range of issues and often intersect with several other rights. Examples of sexual rights issues, as listed by the Sexual Rights Initiative, include (but are not limited to):

  • Comprehensive sexuality education
  • Criminalization and other restrictions on safe abortion
  • Early and Forced Marriage
  • Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
  • Gender-based violence
  • Gender equity
  • Gender identities and expressions
  • Maternal morbidity & mortality
  • Reproductive rights
  • Rights of intersex people
  • Rights of sex workers
  • Sexual orientation
  • Sexual rights of young people

Is is very disturbing that despite all these laws and policies, both at the national and international levels, girls and women are still denied their sexual rights. Similarly,┬álesbians, gay men, bisexual people, transgender people, sex workers, and others who transgress sexual and gender norms often face greater risk of violence, stigma, and discrimination as a result. How often have you read of an adolescent girl or young woman losing her life because of procuring an unsafe abortion? How frequently do you read or watch news regarding women and girls being physically abused, and sometimes murdered, by their intimate partners? How many members of the LGBTQIA+ do you know who feel safe in their respective communities? Have you never heard of adolescent girls being mutilated in very unsanitary places by cutters? I can go on and on…

For women, girls and members of the LGBTQIA+ community , our right to control our own bodies and our sexuality WITHOUT any form of discrimination, coercion, or violence, is important for our empowerment. Without sexual rights, we cannot realize our rights to self-determination and autonomy, nor can we control other aspects of our lives. It is therefore clear that: sexual rights underpin the enjoyment of all other human rights and are a prerequisite for equality and justice…

Therefore, governments of every country in the world are required to RESPECT, PROTECT and FULFILL these basic human rights.


Let us know your thoughts on sexual rights and sexual rights issues…

How can we as women, advocate for this fundamental right?

Words by: Linda Bonareri @linda_bonareri (@ywli_info)