During an intervention at the UN Human Rights Council, the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) head of delegation, Elizabeth O’Casey, raised the issue of the ways in which traditional and cultural practices can undermine the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and girls.
Noting that 800 women die from preventable causes related to childbirth and pregnancy daily and that more than 200 million women lack access to effective contraception, O’Casey highlighted discriminatory traditional and cultural practices such as early marriage and child pregnancy, and the roles of those practices in preventing women from controlling their own fertility and contributing to the undermining of their sexual and reproductive health rights.
Elizabeth O’Casey’s full statement follows below.
United Nations Human Rights Council, 27th Session (8th – 26th September 2014)
General Debate, Item 8: Follow-up & implementation of the Vienna Declaration & Programme of Action
Speaker: Elizabeth O’Casey, Head of IHEU’S Delegation to the UNHRC
The Vienna Declaration confirms, “on the basis of equality between women and men”, a woman’s right to health care and the “widest range of family planning services”. It also calls for “the eradication of any conflicts which may arise between the rights of women and the harmful effects of certain traditional or customary practices”.
The problem for many women is that often at the intersection of these concerns, women’s sexual and reproductive health (SRH) rights and equality, as expressed through non-discrimination, are violated. For example, discriminatory traditional and cultural practices such as FGM and early marriage and pregnancy, can prevent women from controlling their own fertility and contribute to the undermining of their SRH rights.
Every day, 800 women die from preventable causes related to childbirth and pregnancy, girls continue to be forced to marry against their will and more than 200 million women lack access to effective contraception.
A direct example of the link between gender discrimination and the undermining of SRH rights can be seen in Nepal where hundreds of thousands of women are suffering from a reproductive health condition, uterine prolapse, which causes great pain, inhibits them from carrying out their work and can leave them ostracized from families and communities. Contributed to by harsh working environments, early marriage and having too many children, the condition is rooted in traditional and discriminatory practices that have severely limited the ability of women and girls to make decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives.
We call on states therefore to comply with the aims set out by the Vienna Declaration and their obligations under the ICCPR, CEDAW and the CRC by meeting the SRH rights of women and eliminating harmful traditional practices, but also to better tie an enhancement of SRH to development policy in harmony with the Vienna Declaration’s underlining of the importance of women as “both agents and beneficiaries in the development process”,.
 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, §41
 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, §38
 A UN estimate suggests that 10 per cent of Nepal’s 13.6 million women are affected, and this figure could be much higher in some regions. See: http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/nepal-widespread-gender-discrimination-has-triggered-sexual-and-reproductive-rights-crisis-2014
 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, §36
 On this particular issue, we would highlight the work of the EU in its development of the AccessRH mechanism, and its funding of reproductive health projects from its Development Aid and Public Health budgets. We would also like to put on record our compliments for its rejection of the One of Us citizen’s earlier this year.