The CEDAW Committee Urges States to Protect and Promote Sexual and Reproductive Rights
12.16.11 - In July 2011, the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) urged the governments of Nepal, Costa Rica, and Zambia to improve their record on reproductive rights. The Center for Reproductive Rights, along with our partners, played an important role by submitting shadow letters that informed the CEDAW Committee’s recommendations.
Despite a steady decrease in maternal deaths since 1990, Nepal still has the third highest maternal mortality rate outside of sub-Sahara Africa. Most Nepalese women, especially the impoverished, have little or no access to safe abortions—now legal—and contraceptives. The Center for Reproductive Rights, Justice for All, and the Women’s Reproductive Rights Program of the Centre for Agro-Ecology and Development emphasized this deficiency, along with other problems, in our submission to the CEDAW Committee in June 2011.
The Committee then urged Nepal to prioritize and implement programs and policies that:
- ensure access to the full range of maternal and emergency obstetric care,
- make progress in meeting the need for contraception, including emergency contraception,
- improve and expand safe abortion services throughout the country, and
- address uterine prolapse by strengthening preventative measures such as family planning and maternal health training, and improve treatment by adequately funding corrective surgeries.
The Committee repeatedly emphasized the government’s obligation to ensure that maternal health care, family planning, and safe abortion services reach vulnerable subgroups of women, including adolescents, poor women, rural women, women with disabilities, and women living in marginalized communities in urban areas
In early 2011, the Nepal Supreme Court called upon the state to improve and expand access to abortion for all women. The CEDAW Committee’s comments underscore the Court’s finding that more needs to be done to ensure that Nepal’s growing recognition of reproductive rights is implemented both in practice and reality.
After reviewing Costa Rica’s combined fifth and sixth periodic reports on its compliance with the Convention, the Committee expressed concern for the state’s continued indifference to and protection of sexual and reproductive rights, including access to legal abortion. The Center and our partners highlighted this very concern, along with several additional sexual and reproductive health shortcomings, in a shadow letter submitted to the CEDAW Committee in May 2011.
The Center and its partners told the Committee that access to abortion remains limited despite the fact that abortion is legal in Costa Rica when the life or health of the woman is in danger. The Committee echoed that concern, noting the lack of access to the “safest and technologically advanced contraceptive methods” in addition to the lack of safe, legal abortion.
Our shadow letter further explained that women and girls receive little reproductive health education and have difficulty obtaining contraceptives. The Committee then criticized the lack of a comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education program within school curriculums and urged the government to implement such a program as soon as possible.
Finally, in 2000, the Costa Rica Supreme Court banned in vitro fertilization (IVF), declaring it unconstitutional. Since then, the Center has advocated for reversing that decision and lifting the ban. The CEDAW Committee validated the Center’s stance, calling on the government to “ensure access to assisted reproductive services,” which includes IVF.
The Center’s first shadow letter on Zambia to the CEDAW Committee raised issues on key reproductive rights, and the Committee incorporated many of them into its concluding observations. First, the Committee called upon the government to raise awareness about legislation that legalizes safe abortion under certain circumstances. Currently, unsafe abortion continues to produce high levels of maternal disability and death. The Committee urged the government to further strengthen women’s health by ensuring access to post-abortion care services and to reduce maternal mortality by increasing access to healthcare facilities and medical assistance.
Noting that women and girls lack access to reproductive healthcare and information, including contraception, the Committee mandated the expansion of “efforts to increase knowledge of and access to affordable contraceptive methods.” The Committee also urged Zambia to eliminate sexual abuse in schools, punish its perpetrators, and to establish sexual health curriculum in schools, focusing especially on early pregnancy and STIs, including HIV/AIDS.
The Center and its partners welcome the Committee’s concluding observations and strongly urge the governments of Nepal, Costa Rica, and Zambia to fully implement the recommendations.