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Commission publishes groundbreaking report on sexual and reproductive health and rights

On May 9, the Guttmacher-Lancet Commission on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) formally launched its report in Johannesburg, South Africa, publishing results in the medical journal The Lancet. Alaka Basu, professor of development sociology, joined an international and multi-disciplinary team of experts from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and North and South America for this two-year effort.

The report calls for greater attention to sexual and reproductive health and rights as a way to move towards a more just and equal world as well as to hasten the achievement of the Global Sustainable Development Goals agenda.

Identifying some challenges posed by poor sexual and reproductive health conditions globally, the report presents several estimates that call for action: for example, more than 30 million women in developing countries give birth outside of a health facility each year and more than 200 million women in these countries want to avoid a pregnancy but are not using modern contraception. Worldwide, one in three women experience gender-based violence at some point in their lives, usually from an intimate partner, and more than 25 million unsafe abortions take place each year.

“This report is both ground-breaking and timely”, said Basu. “ It is ground-breaking because it defines SRHR more broadly than usual to include the sexual rights and freedoms of individuals, men’s reproductive health and the all too frequent reproductive health problems of infertility and reproductive cancers. It is also bolder and more imaginative than the usual reports on SRHR because it prioritizes SRHR over national and cultural sensitivities that justify the subordination of women and the denial of their right to full control over their bodies," said said.

"It is timely because we seem to be sliding backwards in ensuring the SRHR of vast swathes of the world’s population," Basu said. "The U.S.’s reinstatement of the Mexico City Global Gag Rule and the strategic silence of many national governments on sexual and gender based violence are two unfortunate expressions of this regression."

At the same time, the report is pragmatic and optimistic, according to Basu. While it calls for ideological and normative changes, backed by greater government will and accountability,  to give individuals greater control over their bodies and reproductive decisions, it also outlines concrete roadmaps for countries to develop low-cost interventions: it estimates that an investment of $9 per person per year would be sufficient to meet universal sexual and reproductive health needs. 

The Guttmacher-Lancet Commission’s Report has already received wide publicity and discussion and it is hoped that more and more nations will be motivated to actively promote an SRHR agenda.