Sexual and reproductive rights at the United Nations: frustration or fulfilment?


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Alice M Miller and Mindy J Roseman, Reproductive Health Matters

Abstract: Over the past 20 years, advocates have gained formal recognition for some rights in sexuality and reproduction and established the application of human rights standards to sexual and reproductive health issues more generally. However, careful reflection on the state of norm development across sexuality and reproduction as a field reveals fractures and stagnation in the development of standards, and a lack of synergy among advocates and between frameworks for similar rights. This paper seeks to stimulate a more careful accounting for these realities. It examines the formal processes and rules guiding standard-setting, in light of the different intellectual and ideological genealogies of sexual and reproductive rights. We use (homo)sexual orientation and abortion as case studies of current high-profile human rights standard-setting, with specific attention to the contemporary state of human rights law-making in the United Nations today. By placing these two issues in conjunction, we seek to make visible relationships between the vicious political debates in the UN on abortion and sexual orientation, and the multiple and sometimes divergent statements of independent experts and expert bodies in the UN human rights system on these and other sexual and reproductive rights issues. We offer no answers but seek to highlight the need for more investigation and self-reflection by advocates and scholars on how these forces operate and how to work with them.

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