SRI Canada – A denial of sexual rights is a denial of all human rights.

By Milena Rampoldi and Denise Nanni, ProMosaik. In the following my interview with Meghan Doherty of the SexualRightsInitiative (SRI) which is a coalition of six organizations from Argentina, Canada, Egypt, India, Poland, and South Africa. I asked her about the history and the objectives of her organization. I fully agree with Meghan when she says: “A denial of sexual rights is a denial of all human rights.” Would like to thank Meghan for the important impulses she gave us to think about this important matter.  

How was your organization founded?

The Sexual Rights Initiative (SRI) is a coalition of six organizations from all regions of the world that came together at the UN Human Rights Council in 2005 to advocate together for the advancement of sexual rights.  The SRI was founded out of a desire to give voice and visibility in international human rights spaces to the experiences and analyses of Global South feminists working on a broad range of sexual rights issues.  Moreover, the SRI sought to bring together different perspectives on sexual rights that had previously co-existed but had not joined forces in advocacy efforts in order to put forward intersectional positions. 
Which are its main objectives?

The SRI aims to advance sexual rights (broadly defined and inclusive of reproductive rights) as a particular set of rights and as a crosscutting issue within international law, specifically in the work of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The SRI combines feminist analysis and developments in women’s human rights and sexual and reproductive rights with important advances in the recognition of human rights of all marginalized communities and young people.  To carry out its mission, the SRI collaborates with local, national, regional and international activists to ensure the inclusion of sexual rights in:
  • Human Rights Council resolutions, debates, panels and side-events
  • UN Special Procedures
  • Studies and reports prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • Treaty monitoring bodies
  • Universal Periodic Review
What does sexual health mean to you?

The SRI adopts the WHO definition of sexual health to be “a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled” WHO (2016) Sexual Health, Human Rights and the Law
Which are the main problems women have to face in this field?

As women are not a homogenous group and experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that can vary within countries and between countries, it is difficult to identify the main problems women face as they will be different for different women.  However, in general, all women are exposed to gender inequality and the harmful gender norms perpetuated by patriarchy.  This is at the root of the staggering global prevalence of violence against women and girls (1 in 3 women and girls globally will be subject to physical/sexual violence in their lifetime) and impunity for such violence; criminalization of abortion, sex work, same sex relationships, extra-marital sex and HIV; third party authorization for sexual and reproductive health services; restrictions and inaccessibility to safe and effective contraception; obstetric violence; lack of comprehensive sexuality education; forced sterilization; infringements on women’s bodily autonomy and integrity; early and forced marriage; and any other act that seeks to prevent women from exercising control over her own sexuality.  Moreover, States’ failure to remedy these egregious violations, to provide legal guarantees for women’s rights to be protected, respected and fulfilled, and to address the systemic and structural discrimination against women that creates the conditions for these violations to proliferate around the world is directly connected to violations of the rights inter alia to education, access to justice, equal standing before the law, health, water, work, and sanitation which disproportionately impact women.
Which are the main awareness campaigns you carry out?

The SRI aims to raise awareness of a broad range of sexual rights violations and their intersections with other rights violations with Governments, civil society, UN agencies and independent experts through a variety of mechanisms including: public events, stakeholder submissions to UN agencies and processes, statements to the UN Human Rights Council, and dissemination of analyses of UN proceedings.  Issues that the SRI has highlighted include: the criminalization of abortion, maternal mortality and human rights, the right to comprehensive sexuality education, State obligations to prevent violence against women and girls, the rights to bodily autonomy, the politicization of women’s bodies, impact of fundamentalisms on sexual rights, adolescents’ sexual rights and human rights violations of sex workers.
How important is to care about these matters as society as a whole?
Human rights refer to every person’s freedoms and entitlements to live in dignity. They are universal, interdependent, and indivisible.  A denial of sexual rights is a denial of all human rights.
While experienced and expressed differently, sexuality is a fundamental part of humanity.  The fulfillment of human rights related to sexuality requires an environment in which all persons can control and decide freely on matters related to their sexuality; are free from violence, coercion or intimidation in their sexual lives; have access to sexual and reproductive health care information, education and services; and are protected from discrimination based on the exercise of their sexuality.  States have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfill every person’s rights in this regard, without exception.  And if they don’t, the SRI will be there to hold them accountable.