WGNRR Statement for the 16 Days of Action Campaign: Denial of women's sexual and reproductive rights is violence against women

This November 25th, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (VAW), Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR) calls its members to join the 16 Days of Actions Campaign*  and continue holding governments from all over the globe accountable to stop VAW through the full realization of sexual and reproductive rights.
The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (CEDAW) and Inter-American Declaration on Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women “Convention of Belem do Para” explicitly state that violence against women includes “physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the State or its agents regardless of where it occurs”. In this regard systematic denial and withholding of sexual and reproductive health services through restrictive laws on the one hand and through obstructing access to services on the other hand constitutes an act of institutional violence which has a detrimental effect in the lives of all women, specifically impacting the most marginalised groups such as young unmarried women, women with disabilities, HIV positive women, indigenous women, sex workers, lesbians, transgender and others.
According to ICPD Platform of Action reproductive health implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life and that they have a capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how to do so (ICPD, para. 7.2) The full state of reproductive health is achieved by being able to exercise one’s reproductive rights which embrace human rights such as freedom to information, freedom to bodily integrity, freedom to life without violence and others, which are already recognized in national laws, international human rights documents and other consensus documents. 
One of the loudest examples of violence against women when it comes to women’s sexual and reproductive health is to systematically deny the right and access to safe and legal abortion services. Institutional violence against women is perpetrated in cases when women are forced by restrictive abortion laws to carry to term an unwanted pregnancy or that puts their health and life at risk subjecting them to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. This particularly concerns the countries that prohibit abortion on all grounds including when a woman’s life and health are in danger.
Evidence shows that where there is a total ban on abortion, maternal mortality and morbidity rates increase because doctors are unable or fearful of providing life-saving treatment that might potentially interrupt the pregnancy even when it is the only way to save the woman’s life. 
States which subject women to judicial and non-judicial persecution, including imprisonment for undergoing an abortion or pressing charges of illegal abortion for women who suffered miscarriages perpetuate an even greater degree of institutional violence against women, firstly by denying access to safe abortion services and secondly by persecuting them under the law.
Availability and access to a wide range of safe and modern contraceptives options, specifically women-centric contraceptives, accompanied by accurate information and affordable, quality and friendly services are essential in enabling people to fulfill their sexual and reproductive rights. Contraceptives methods are crucial to prevent unintended pregnancies and pregnancy related complications. It is also the most effective way to reduce and prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections such as HIV. Numerous studies have shown that when the right to contraceptives was upheld and access to information and services increased, people have benefited – through better health, higher incomes, reduction in poverty and greater gender equality. 
Sadly, while there is a gradual increase in contraceptive use over the decades,  access to safe and affordable contraceptives remains to be an unmet need for millions around the world. According to the data from the Guttmacher Institute and UNFPA, satisfying the current unmet need for contraceptives could prevent approximately 150 000 maternal deaths, 25  million induced abortions and 22 million unplanned births world wide annually. 
In light of these facts, denying or actively obstructing access to modern methods of contraceptives as still practiced by many governments around the world constitute yet another act of institutional violence against women. Governments are implicit in violence against women when they endorse gender inequality and patriarchal norms; when they keep in place restrictive laws and policies based on the archaic cultural and religious grounds; when they sanction negative attitudes towards young people seeking information about contraceptives methods and services; and when they do not priritise reproductive health services including access to contraceptives in the health policies and budgets, which results in limited availability of the services and lead to further lack of knowledge and misconceptions. 
Issues such as access to safe and legal abortion and promotion of access to contraceptives methods and services are highly charged with stigma. Therefore, women human rights defenders (WRHD) working in defense of women’s sexual and reproductive rights, are being threaten, harassed, criminalized and assaulted all over the world, just because they have challenged a patriarchal system that suppress women´s rights. 
On occasions the entire networks of women organizations, feminists and advocates render incapacitated by the digital attacks on their websites as it happened to the Latin American and Caribbean Women’s Health Network whose website was digitally attacked during the time leading to the observation of September 28 Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion. 
When the state truly cares about the well-being of women, it is obliged to take all possible efforts to eliminate Violence against Women. One important strategy in this direction should be protection of women’s human rights defenders, both as victims of sexist and patriarchal violence and as guardians of women’s rights.  It is through protection to women’s human rights defenders the state can guarantee life free of violence in the field of sexual and reproductive rights, which is an essential element in a democratic state.
WGNRR calls its members, allies and partners to demand during the 16 Days of Action Campaign the inclusion of women's SRHR and protection of WHRD in the post 2014-2015 development agenda as to eliminate Violence against Women and fulfil  states' commitments to the Human Right all over the world.    
 We call on the governments to take the following actions:
1. Promote sexual and reproductive rights, the exercise of which enables the attainment of the whole range of other rights. 
2. Ensure access to full range of contraceptive services, specifically making women-centric contraceptive services such as female condoms, emergency contraception, cervical caps and the like, accessible, available and affordable to everyone. 
3. Eliminate legal, social, logistical and financial obstacles to reproductive health, so that everyone who chooses to use it, has access to it. 
4. Prioritize the issue of safe and legal abortion in compliance with prior international commitments such as CEDAW, ICESCR, ICPD PoA, Maputo Protocol and international human rights treaties.
5.  Decriminalize abortion, remove all legal and implementation barriers to ensure access to safe, comprehensive, free and of high quality procedure for pregnancy termination, free of requirements for marital or parental consent.
6. End the harassment, criminalization and aggression aimed at networks, civil society organizations, feminists and advocates of sexual and reproductive rights. Ensure security and integrity for the women’s rights defenders threatened by repressive mechanisms of the state or by civil groups which carry hatred and fundamentalism.
*The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is an international campaign originating from the first Women's Global Leadership Institute coordinated by the Center for Women's Global Leadership in 1991. Participants chose the dates November 25- International Day Against Violence Against Women- and December 10- International Human Rights Day- in order to symbolically link violence against women and human rights and to emphasize that such violence is a violation of human rights. Source: http://16dayscwgl.rutgers.edu/about/campaign-profile