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People, Planet and Partnerships: Why sexual and reproductive health and rights are crucial to sustainable development

Friday 25 September 2020 Contraception, Safe abortion and post abortion care

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Last Friday, 18th September 2020, the UN Secretary-General convened the decade's first 'SDG Moment' on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are 17 goals and 174 targets agreed by every government in 2015. They're interconnected commitments that recognise that issues such as poverty, gender equality and the climate crisis cannot be addressed by countries independently, but instead will take global, collaborative action.

The meeting provided a snapshot of progress on the SDGs and set out the vision for the next decade, including plans to tackle major implementation gaps and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the week, there was a virtual interactive SDG Action Zone, showcasing critical areas to accelerate action on the SDGs and providing a space for deeper conversations. 

How does SRHR underpin sustainable development?

With over 40 years’ experience delivering life-changing healthcare, we know how key essential Sexual and Reproductive Health & Rights (SRHR) are to the prosperity of people across the world.  Reproductive choice enables individuals to make the decisions that are best for themselves, their families, and their futures.

If every woman and girl who wants to avoid a pregnancy had access to contraception, we could prevent an additional 76 million unintended pregnancies, 26 million unsafe abortions and 70,000 maternal deaths each year. High-quality reproductive healthcare is, therefore, undeniably linked to ensuring good health and wellbeing for people across the planet, which is the third Sustainable Development Goal (SDG3).

But access to sexual and reproductive health and rights goes beyond improving just women and girls' health. It is linked to quality education (SDG4) as girls are able to stay in school longer, and supports women's economic empowerment. When women have control over when they have children and how many to have, they are better able to support their families (SDG2) and break out of the cycle of poverty (SDG1). And, of course, when all women and girls are healthier, educated, and able to work, we'll be closer to a gender-equal world (SDG5 and SDG9). 

The threat of climate change in achieving a sustainable future

As one of the greatest threats to progress, climate change is addressed under the 13th Sustainable Development Goal, which sits alongside 'Responsible Consumption and Production’ (SDG12), ‘Life below water’ (SDG 14) and ‘Life on Land’ (SDG 15).

But climate change doesn't affect everyone in the same way, and the communities who are hardest hit are usually those whose consumption and production is smallest. Women and girls, often the poorest and most vulnerable in these communities, are also disproportionately impacted. 

If all women can access contraception and safe abortion and make decisions about their reproductive health, positive sustainable development outcomes, such as health and well-being, education, breaking out of the cycle of poverty, and gender equality, are more likely to be achieved. It would also mean that women would have increased opportunities to meaningfully participate in both community and national-level planning and decision-making on sustainable living, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation strategies. 

Currently, very few environmental programmes integrate reproductive health as part of their strategies, but for MSI, working together in partnership is the backbone to “building back better”, and we are working towards developing partnerships and designing programmes that integrate SRHR, climate adaptation and resilience.

Moving forward

With 2020 marking the first year of the Secretary-General's Decade of Action against the backdrop of a global pandemic and economic downturn, this week we recommit to the SDGs, to forging new partnerships and advocating to ensure that reproductive choice and rights of women and girls are at the centre of these effort. 




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