The Struggle for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in the Pacific Region

November 8, 2016

BY Viva Tataqawa

The Pacific small island states, as in most regions in the world, still struggle to recognize, implement and advance sexual and reproductive health and rights on the ground, where it matters. This is especially the case for women and girls, and those that are LGBTQI and other gender non-conforming people. In the Pacific islands politics, conservatism still dominates when it comes to SRHR issues.

Feminist and women human rights defenders in the Pacific have been working together to establish interlinkages with social justice issues at large, insisting that sexual rights are the core component of social, economic, environmental, cultural, civil and political rights. Pacific governments are responding positively, if still not quickly enough. In 2013, the Moana Declaration – the outcome Statement of Pacific Parliamentarians for Population and Development – called for access to SRHR for all our peoples, without discrimination. Asia and Pacific Ministers have also said that governments must work to reduce vulnerability and eliminate discrimination based on sex, gender, age, race, caste, class, migrant status, disability, HIV status, SOGIE or other status (at the United Nations Economic and Social Council in 2013). The challenge is to make sure that this is implemented and matched by their actions at home.

Sexual and gender based violence is at extremely high levels in the region, according to prevalence studies.  Due to the patriarchal and hierarchical nature of most Pacific societies, there are still far too many difficulties and challenges in having open and honest dialogues about sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The Pacific Feminist SRHR coalition with its CSO led co-conveners (FWRM, DIVA and PYC), supported by many more governmental and CROP agencies that recognize the group’s political, technical and movement-building work, are creating more spaces that assist SRHR work to flourish, to be recognized as core work for gender justice and women’s human rights – and to be part of national plans of action, and regional initiatives. This work is still not enough, not fast enough, and does not have enough resources. Even more so now with other existential circumstances like rising poverty rates, inequalities, ecological and climate change problems, and more.

As well as work on SRHR specifically led by Pacific feminists and WHRD led movements, the Pacific now requires a comprehensive and integrated approach that brings together researchers, legislators and policy makers, civil society organizations, social movements and community representatives including women, girls, young people and high need and marginalized groups. All resultant legislation must be grounded by people’s lived realities and experiences for it to be effective. It must also be complemented by policy actions that protect and promote people’s rights to the highest attainable standards and protects them from harm in particular.

Similarly, policies must also be supported by legislation, law enforcement practices and a fair and accessible justice system that is based on the universal human rights framework, so that people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights are enforceable and those who are denied their rights are held to account. Above all this, women-led and feminist movements that lead this work on SRHR must be supported and have access to sufficient resources to do this work.