ICPD + 20: Status of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Asia Pacific

2014 marked the twentieth anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development’s Programme of Action, one of the landmark consensus documents, in which governments agreed to and signed off on commitments towards improving women’s sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. Monitoring government achievements and performance is a critical way of holding governments and development stakeholders accountable to those international commitments. ARROW and partners have been involved in monitoring work at community, national and regional levels across the Asia-Pacific and the Global South.

ARROW has consistently monitoring the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action at the +5, +10 and +15 intervals. For the ICPD+20, with support from regional networks and donors, they upscaled their efforts and replicated the monitoring work across the Global South regions – Eastern Europe, Latin America & the Carribbean, Africa, Middle East & North Africa and Asia-Pacific. For the Asia-Pacific region, the monitoring was done by ARROW, while in the other regions the monitoring was done in partnership with relevant regional networks. The aim was to show the evidence around the critical need for the continued sustenance of the sexual and reproductive health and rights agenda across the Global South.

Can Faith and Freedom Co-Exist?

The debate over religious freedom will continue to be a key issue in the United States and Europe. Religious lobbies are pressuring policymakers for exemptions or for permission to impose their views on the rest of society. Catholics for Choice co-convened a forum at the European Parliament to discuss the real meaning of religious freedom with members of the European Parliament, journalists and civil society leaders.

“Can Faith and Freedom Co-exist?”, a film produced by Catholics for Choice on behalf of the Global Interfaith and Secular Alliance, answers the pressing questions about religious freedom, secularism and extremism.

Read more about the Global Interfaith and Secular Alliance.

Bad Faith at the UN

Drawing Back the Curtain on the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute

This 2001 report from Catholics for a Free Choice examines the history, activities and finances of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (CAFHRI), a conservative, anti-reproductive rights Catholic organization that lobbies the UN. The report uncovers shocking remarks made by Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, quoting Ruse as saying that a priest from the Holy See’s UN delegation guaranteed him “absolution if I just took her [Hillary Clinton] out—and not on a date.”

Among the key findings of the report:

  • CAFHRI claims to be an independent entity, but extensive documentation obtained by CFFC illustrates that it was established by Human Life International (HLI), an anti-abortion organization that has been charged with anti-Semitism for claiming that Jews run the abortion industry, and Human Life International-Canada, after HLI was denied UN accreditation.
  • CAFHRI has applied for special nongovernmental organization (NGO) status so it can lobby UN delegates, but it ignores the basic requirement that such an NGO support the work of the UN.  Its president, Austin Ruse, admits to only a “veneer of support” for the UN and boasts of actions that “defy every UN rule on lobbying.”  CAFHRI spokespeople and literature routinely disparage and denigrate the UN and its work.
  • Documentation obtained by CFFC shows that CAFHRI sought to hide its connection to Human Life International, as well as the fact that its primary purpose is to serve as a resource for the Holy See at the United Nations.




A Rights Agenda for the Muslim World?

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s Evolving Human Rights Framework

TURAN KAYAOĞLU, Brookings Doha Center Analysis Paper Number 6, January 2013

This study provides an assessment of the OIC’s human rights instruments. It argues that their impact has remained limited for two reasons. The first is religious: the OIC lacks a clear framework dealing with the issue of compatibility between international human rights norms and the conservative brand of Islam dominant among leading OIC member states such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan. The second reason is structural: the organization’s state-centric nature complicates the functioning of its human rights mechanisms. Within the OIC, the primacy accorded to states diminishes the organization’s authority as a supra- national body and inhibits its ability to work with NGOs on the promotion of rights.

Despite its shortcomings, the OIC has real potential as an advocate of human rights in the Muslim world. Unfortunately, this potential has been overlooked by the international human rights community, which has little knowledge of the OIC and its human rights agenda. International debates about the OIC and human rights have been selective, focusing on issues such as the defamation of religion, gender, and gay rights.

In discussing the OIC as a human rights actor and the factors preventing it from fulfilling such a role, this paper attempts to shift the debate on Islam and human rights from a cultural and religious framework to an institutional one. As such, its focus is not on the compatibility of sharia with universal human rights, but on the structural obstacles that prevent the OIC and its member states from establishing effective human rights mechanisms.

The paper offers three principal arguments. First, that Muslim states’ commitment to a traditional understanding of sovereignty has been an obstacle to the advancement of human rights in the Muslim world. Second, it argues that the evolution of the OIC’s human rights instruments shows a shift over time, from an emphasis on sharia to an emphasis on sovereignty. The study concludes by positing that if the OIC were to have greater authority over individual states on human rights issues, it could be a more effective force for promoting human rights in the Muslim world. An approach that focuses not on the difficulty of aligning human rights and Islamic law, but on the necessity of “sharing sovereignty,” could empower OIC institutions and strengthen human rights NGOs.

Women’s Health and the Barriers of Culture and Religion

ARROWs For Change, published by the Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women (ARROW), Vol. 3 No. 5, December 1999

This edition of ARROWs For Change covers:

  • Conceptual Clarity
  • Learning from India’s Traditional Birth Attendants, the Dais
  • Conducting Religious Discourse on Reproductive Rights: The Pesantren Experience
  • Monitoring Country Activities (Fiji, India, Korea, Malaysia, and UN ESCAP discussion)
  • From the Information and Documentation Centre
  • Restrictive Abortion Laws in Asia-Pacific

Keeping the Faith: Overcoming Religious Fundamentalisms

ARROWs For Change, published by the Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women (ARROW), Vol. 14 Nos. 1 & 2 2008

“The impulse to strictly conform to sacred texts and moral codes dates back a long time. To comprehend why and how such impulses arise, discussions on religious fundamentalisms and their historical
contexts are necessary. More pragmatically,a fuller understanding of the dynamics of religious fundamentalisms—especially as they affect women’s rights—helps identify and create potential spaces where strategic advocacies could be pursued.”
This edition of ARROW’s ARROWs For Change publication contains:
  • Hindu Fundamentalisms in India: Examining Impact and Responses by the Women’s Movements, by Chayanika Shah, member of two feminist collectives based in Mumbai, India—Forum Against Oppression of Women and Lesbians and Bisexuals in Action.
  • Challenging Islamic Fundamentalism: Asserting Muslim Women’s Sexuality and Rights in Marriage, Family and Society, by Norani Othman, Founding and Board Member, Sisters in Islam, Malaysia; Principal Research Fellow and Professor, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
  • Growing Fundamentalisms: A Grave Apprehension for Women’s Rights in Pakistan, by Shahnaz Iqbal, Programme Coordinator, Shirkat Gah Women Resource Centre.
  • Beyond Legality: Abortion and Reproductive Health in the Philippines, by Carolina S. Ruiz, Board Chairperson, Womenlead Foundation, Inc. and Professorial Lecturer, University of the Philippines College of Law.
  • Tackling gender and sexual discrimination in Buddhism, by Ouyporn Khuankaew, Co-Founder and Director, International Women’s Partnership for Peace and Justice (IWP).
  • Monitoring Country Activities
  • Resourced from the Information and Documentation Centre
  • Definitions
  • Impacts of Religious Fundamentalisms on Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Rights

Rural Feminist Activism and Religious Fundamentalism in Nova Scotia, Canada

Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre

by Lucille Harper, Leona M. English and Betsy MacDonald

In one rural school board district in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, there has been a concerted effort led by a small group of religious fundamentalists, with support from fathers’ rights activists, to limit and in some instances to prevent students from accessing information about personal relationships, health and sexuality. This paper explores four situations that occurred between 2002 and 2008 in which some members of the local school board actively resisted the provision of resources and programs that were approved for students by the Nova Scotia Department of Education. It provides an analysis of the strategies used by a local women’s organization working with community allies to support the provision of the Rural Youth Healthy Relationships Education Project (2002), Sex? A Healthy Sexuality Resource (first edition, 2004), Youth Health Centres (2006), and the Healthy Relationships for Youth Program (2007).

This resource is one part of AWID’s 2010 series of 18 Case studies, Feminists on the Frontline: Case Studies of Resisting and Challenging Fundamentalisms 

Analyzing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights under the CEDAW Convention

The Asian Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW) along with their partners at the national and regional levels are working towards reaffirming women’s agency to claim sexual and reproductive health and rights. Towards this endeavor, ARROW is actively engaging in research, monitoring, knowledge management and advocacy at national, regional and international levels around the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in 1994. ICPD marked a significant milestone in the area of sexual and reproductive health and rights with its emphasis on the rights of individuals and empowerment of women.

At the same time ARROW has been examining the possibilities of using human rights conventions, covenants, treaties strategies to mainstream and integrate SRHR within these, so as to further affirm government commitments on SRHR at the national level. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is a source of international law and considered legally binding. CEDAW addresses all forms of discrimination against women including discrimination in relation to right to health and health services, and guarantees women the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men. ARROW underscores the distinguished position of CEDAW convention, the General Recommendations and the Optional Protocol to CEDAW as playing a critical role in women sexual and reproductive health rights

She is not a criminal: The impact of Ireland’s abortion Law

Every day, between 10 and 12 women and girls living in Ireland travel to England for an abortion. The majority of the women are aged between 20 and 34. Their reasons for terminating their pregnancies vary; however, their reason for travelling is the same. They cannot access safe and legal abortion services in Ireland, as procuring an abortion there is a criminal offence except where the pregnancy poses a “real and substantial” risk to their life. Human rights bodies have repeatedly held that restrictive abortion laws, including those that exist in Ireland, violate women’s and girls’ rights to life, health, privacy, non-discrimination and freedom from torture and other ill-treatment. The withholding and denial of abortion-related information to women, as Ireland’s Regulation of Information Act requires, also violates fundamental human rights, including the rights to information and freedom of expression. The findings of this report reveal violations of these human rights and demonstrate that Ireland is not implementing its international obligations to respect, protect and fulfil these rights.
Download the full report from Amnesty International below.