Women’s Right to Health


Despite the fact that women’s right to health has been recognised under international human rights law since the 1950s, the issue has not received consistent and effective consideration, and therefore, actions to bring any substantial changes have been described as slow and often superficial.1 One of the most prevalent reasons for the persistent violation of women’s right to health is primarily due to the failure of relevant national and international organisations to fully comprehend and understand the pain, suffering, and sometimes death that is inflicted on women due to restricted access to sufficient health care services.2 This ignorance, or unawareness of issues in relation to women’s right to health, is often perpetuated through the artificial divide between the public and private sphere that has traditionally existed in the context of international human rights protection.3 Within this divide, women’s rights, issues, and concerns are often relegated to the private sphere primarily because women are often considered the main caregivers in the family and domestic life.4 In this way, issues and concerns about women’s health, such as those affecting woman’s sexuality and reproductive health, have traditionally been perceived as falling within the private sphere.5 One of the most significant implications of the artificial divide is that the public realm is largely considered to be subject to government regulation and scrutiny. In contrast, the private sphere is traditionally considered to avoid such regulation, and is therefore more prone to be governed by values and norms embedded in culture.6 It is primarily due to this increased susceptibility of women’s rights to health to claims of culture that it has been selected as a focus of investigation.7

With this in mind, the purpose of this chapter is to explore, present, and analyse the dialogues that were undertaken by member states during their reviews in relation to three issues in relation to women’s right to health: female genital mutilation (FGM), abortion, and access to health. A total of 868 recommendations were made on the three issues in relation to women’s right to health. Looking beyond the numbers, this investigation uniquely considered the substance and nature of the interactive dialogue at the Universal Periodic Review

(UPR) process. Using these issues as a focus for this investigation first and fore mostly help assess whether the central aims of the UPR process of promoting and protecting the universality of human rights has been met or challenged during the state reviews in the first two cycles. Going further, considering the controversial nature of the issues under examination, the aim is to understand the role and significance of culture and cultural relativism in the modern-day discussions of controversial international human rights norms during the UPR process.

This chapter is divided into three main sections: FGM, abortion, and women’s rights to access health care services, which will all follow the same structure. Each of the three main sections will begin by contextualising the issue by providing a brief introduction to the international human rights law on each issue. The second sections are dedicated to presenting the findings of these explorations, with the third and final sections dedicated to discussing the findings of each of these issues.

Female Genital Mutilation at the UPR Process

Contextualising Women’s Rights in Relation to Female Genital Mutilation

Amongst the various different forms of definitions for FGM, for the present purposes, the following is adopted: ‘all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia ... whether for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons’. The jurisprudence has emanated from various international human rights law treaties that persistently declared FGM as a violation of women’s (and girls’) rights under a range of international human rights instruments.8 More significantly, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (Committee on the Women’s Convention) has clarified that FGM, together with any underlying cultural justifications that endorse the practice, should be eliminated.9 With the practice still being continued, despite repeated declarations of the practice of FGM being a violation of women’s rights,10 there is clearly a discrepancy between human rights norms and the obligations of the state in relation to the implementation and practice.11 Those that are sympathetic to the practice argue that it is inseparable from the religious and cultural identity of some groups12 and, therefore, its continuance is often defended as an expression of the traditional and cultural values of a particular society.13 Justifications for the practice are sometimes based on preserving women and girls’ virginity,14 birth control,1’’ or to protect the family honour by preventing immorality and preserving group identity.16 This inherent relationship between the practice of FGM and cultural norms was reflected in the discussions held on the issue in the UPR process. Over the two cycles, 36 member states, explicitly or implicitly, recognised the inherent association between FGM and culture during the interactive dialogue.

Findings on FGM in the UPR Process

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >