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Sexual and Reproductive Rights Situation Report

April 12, 2010

The Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Situation Report is a monthly column highlighting advances or setbacks in SRHR policy internationally.  This month, because Gender Across Borders is celebrating its first blogiversary, I’m going to update on a few of the stories and issues I’ve written about in the SRHR Sit Report, plus give some new resources.

From a photo essay on the Women's Refugee Commission's work in Haiti.

From a photo essay on the Women's Refugee Commission's work in Haiti

Haiti- Repro Rights After Disaster

As predicted, reproductive and sexual health have been problematic for Haitian women since the earthquake several months ago.  Few NGOs are providing reproductive health services, making them even less accessible for many women than they were before the quake.  Rape is on the rise, particularly in refugee camps.  According to The WIP, “hundreds of thousands of newly homeless females [are] sleeping on the streets and in tent settlements, many of them alone,” and the problem is compounded by “disorganized and inadequate policing; and a nonfunctioning justice system.”   As the response to the earthquake in Haiti transitions from immediate disaster relief to longer-term rebuilding, women’s organizations are still calling for a gendered response, and for the inclusion women in planning the reconstruction of Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas to ensure that gender-based issues like reproductive health are dealt with appropriately. Women’s nonprofits and civil society groups were notably absent from the big donor summit to plan rebuilding efforts. The “Action Plan for National Recovery and Development of Haiti” is backed by Ban Ki-moon and Hillary Clinton, among others, but wasn’t created with the participation of those who will be affected.  MADRE, a well-respected women’s NGO on the ground in Haiti, called a press conference to call attention to the fact and to “demand a human-rights based approach to reconstruction.”  Here‘s a video of the highlights. You can donate here to MADRE to help them “stand by our sisters in Haiti even after the big rescue and relief agencies pull out.”  You can also send them medical supplies.  The organization comes highly recommended by colleagues in Latin America, and it’s a Global Fund for Women partner agency, which is a big stamp of approval, so you know you’re giving in the right way.  You can also give to Zanmi Lasante (Partners in Health) which has an excellent reputation and a long history of focusing on reproductive health services.

Liberalization of Abortion Law in Spain

Finally, some good news!  On November 26, 2009, legislation passed in Spain decriminalizing abortion!  (Full text of the legislation in Spanish is available here).  The passage comes after more than a year of debate and information-gathering from experts and civil society.  Says Carmen Montón, a feminist lawmaker who was instrumental in the passage, “after 30 years of democracy, Spain will have a law comparable with the rest of Europe, which respects and legally guarantees women’s rights to freely and safely decide about their own maternity” (translation mine).  Here‘s a bit on the specifics of the law from the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Anti-Gay Legislation in Uganda

Legislation imposing draconian punishment (even death) for “homosexual behavior” is still pending in Uganda.  Recent reports say that even the softened version of the bill is not drawing strong popular support there.  According to a parliamentary panel, there is little public support for the bill and the issue is not a legislative priority.  Obama did attend the National Prayer Breakfast, in spite of calls to sever the tie between the office of the presidency and the Breakfast’s virulently fundamentalist hosts, especially given their ties to the Ugandan bill.  But in his speech, Obama directly addressed the Ugandan legislation and referred to it as “odious.”  Here‘s a Democracy Now video on the issue, including discussion of the role of U.S.-based fundamentalists in the legislation’s introduction, chilling scenes of anti-gay protests, and video of Obama’s comments at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Sexual Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The vicious atrocities continue, but there’s some good news on this front too.  Through the numbers of victims of brutal rapes and sexual assaults grows daily, international recognition of the issue also continues to grow.  And that all-important resource– attention– may lead to increased international intervention to protect innocent victims.  Peacekeeping forces are facing a very murky situation and controversy on implementation has arisen, specifically around cooperating with armed forces who are perpetrating sexual violence and other human rights violations.

Another advance: legislation has been introduced by (my own) House Representative Jim McDermott, with the support of a number of key NGOs, to clarify the role of trade in “conflict minerals.”  Transparency in the supply chain would be a good first step to allowing consumers to serve as advocates or make educated choices.

The International Criminal Court has indicted several Congolese leaders, but neither sexual violence or rape has figured significantly as a prosecutable crime of war.  The State Department does not classify rape as a war crime.  A recent UN report points out that rape and sexual violence continue, even being perpetrated by men who are not currently members of armed groups or militias.  Rape has been officially classified as a war crime for several years, which could be an important legal tool.  It has yet to gain traction, but many are hoping that the conflict in the DR Congo may push the international community in that direction.

The push-pull on sexual and reproductive rights continues, and every setback is a reminder that feminists can’t rest for a moment.  Those who seek to strip us of our autonomy by stripping us of the control of our bodies and our reproductive capacity certainly aren’t taking any days off.

Thank you for a great year; I’m looking forward to reporting on more fabulous leaps forward for sexual and reproductive rights in the next one.

Brook Elliott-Buettner is a freelance human rights policy researcher and writer. More information and work is available at

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