2020 Civil Society Roadmap on Women, Peace and Security

Promotion of human rights, including sexual and reproductive health and rights

“Lack of sexual and reproductive rights…undermines bodily autonomy and women’s right to choose when and how many children to have; women in Sudan have an average of 4 children, many having their first child before the age of 18 — when they are still children themselves.”

Alaa Salah, UN Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security, October 2019

Key Messages

Women’s human rights, as articulated in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Platform for Action, and reinforced in resolutions adopted by the Security Council, are the fundamental principles guiding the WPS agenda. Further, in 2015, the Global Study on the Implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) highlighted women’s human rights and gender equality as central to the maintenance of international peace and security. Yet in the current political environment, we have witnessed increasing and direct attacks on core principles of international humanitarian and human rights law, including as they apply to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics (SOGIESC), in the very bodies tasked with protecting human rights and maintaining international peace and security, such as the General Assembly and the Security Council. Given the global pushback on these rights, dedicated attention to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) in conflict-affected settings is necessary.

Addressing gender-based violence (GBV) against women and girls is an integral part of the WPS agenda. All efforts to address GBV must promote holistic implementation of the WPS agenda and focus on upstream prevention and a rights-based approach, not only a protection framework. GBV is a symptom of broader inequalities and cannot be addressed without getting at the root causes of conflict and prioritizing women’s participation both in identifying trends as well as envisioning solutions at all levels; their needs and priorities should drive decision-making at the Security Council.

A “survivor-centered approach” means that those who are engaged in addressing GBV prioritize the rights, needs and wishes of survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and place them at the center of designing adequate services to ensure their rights by addressing their needs. A critical component of a survivor-centered approach is the right of survivors to health care and comprehensive support that is accessible and delivered without discrimination, including sexual and reproductive healthcare, psychosocial support, legal services, access to justice, as well as support for livelihoods. SRHR is a fundamental part of a survivor-centered approach.

SRH services are essential in conflict and post-conflict contexts. SRH services, which include contraception, intrapartum care for all births, emergency obstetric and newborn care, post-abortion care, safe abortion care, clinical care for rape survivors, and prevention and treatment for HIV and other sexually-transmitted infections, are essential in conflict and post-conflict contexts.

Access to SRH services is not a voluntary commitment — states have international legal obligations[1] to respect, protect and fulfill these rights, and SRH services must be recognized for their obligatory and enforceable nature. States have an obligation to ensure non-discriminatory access to services for all persons, including SOGIESC people, and are expected to proactively develop laws, policies and programs to prevent and eliminate discrimination, stigmatization and violence that hinders access to SRH.[2] The SRHR of all women and girls in conflict-affected settings are protected by multiple, complementary bodies of international law, including international humanitarian law, international human rights law and international criminal law.

Denial of SRHR can have serious consequences for the health and lives of all women. For example, without access to contraceptives, including emergency contraception, unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortion will increase, contributing to further increases in maternal death and disability in crisis settings. Denying or imposing barriers to access safe abortion in these settings undermines women’s reproductive autonomy and violates the rights to life, health, privacy, equality and freedom from torture or ill-treatment. Without access to comprehensive SRHR, the lives of women and girls are at risk, left unprotected, and they cannot fully and meaningfully participate in peace processes, conflict resolution and peacebuilding efforts, thereby undermining the realization of all four pillars of the WPS agenda.


Why are sexual and reproductive health and rights essential in conflict settings?

  • As a result of poor conditions and lack of qualified care, more than 500 women and girls die every day during pregnancy and childbirth.[3]
  • In some fragile, conflict-affected and crisis situations, women are twice as likely to experience violence, with 65% of women reported having experienced sexual or physical violence.[4]
  • Issues related to sexual and reproductive health are among the leading causes of mortality and morbidity among women of childbearing age, with countries affected by fragility and crisis accounting for 61% of maternal deaths worldwide.[5]


  • Ensure accountability for violations of sexual and reproductive rights by meeting clearly established obligations to provide non-discriminatory access to SRH services and care in all crisis situations and conflict and humanitarian settings.
  • UN system entities must include detailed information, sex-, age- and disability-disaggregated data and analysis on efforts to address SRHR in all reports of the Secretary-General on country- and region-specific situations, as well as thematic issues.
  • UN senior officials must speak out publicly and regularly to ensure that there is no ambiguity regarding the obligation of states to guarantee, as a matter of right, access to the full range of SRH services without discrimination, in conflict-affected and humanitarian settings. All senior UN leaders must reinforce the importance of the full range of women’s human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights, in all public statements and as a priority in their decision-making and public messaging.
  • Defend SRHR in both thematic and country-specific discussions and any outcome documents. Reinforce previously agreed language on SRHR and ensure full implementation of all WPS resolutions. Outcomes that undermine, damage or fail to advance the core tenets of the WPS agenda, or endorse anything less than full implementation, are unacceptable.
  • Reinforce that a holistic survivor-centered approach to addressing, responding to and preventing GBV must be rights-based and designed with reciprocal communication in partnership with affected populations. The Security Council should call for all governments to uphold their obligations to recognize that GBV services, including SRH services, are essential services and must be accessible in a safe and user-friendly way, including by allocating budgets and support for staff. The Security Council should reinforce this understanding in all relevant outcome documents adopted on country- and region-specific situations.
  • Reinforce recommendations articulated by independent experts and expert groups in country- and region-specific discussions and outcomes, including those resulting from human rights treaty bodies and special procedures.
  • Maintain essential health services: Urge Member States and the UN system to maintain and prioritize non-discriminatory and comprehensive access to essential health services, including SRH in line with the Minimum Initial Services Package in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights law, as well as psychosocial support and other mental health services.
  • Prevent and respond to GBV: Take necessary measures to prevent, address, and document all forms of GBV, particularly intimate partner violence and other forms of domestic violence, recognizing that violence against women, girls and other marginalized groups will increase due to the need for voluntary quarantines, social distancing, curfews and closure of non-essential services. Member States and donors must strengthen and fill gaps in the provision of local GBV survivor-centered referral systems and services.

[1]International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Art. 12

[2]General comment No. 22 (2016) on the right to sexual and reproductive health (article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) (E/C.12/GC/22), 2016.

[3]IAWG, COVID-19 Pandemic Further Threatens Women and Girls Already at Risk in Humanitarian and Fragile Settings, 2020. https://cdn.iawg.rygn.io/documents/IAWG-COVID-ADVOCACY-STATEMENT.pdf?mtime=20200512014036&focal=none

[4]IAWG, COVID-19 Pandemic Further Threatens Women and Girls Already at Risk in Humanitarian and Fragile Settings, 2020. https://cdn.iawg.rygn.io/documents/IAWG-COVID-ADVOCACY-STATEMENT.pdf?mtime=20200512014036&focal=none

[5]World Bank Group, Trends in maternal mortality 2000 to 2017 : Estimates by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, World Bank Group and the United Nations Population Division (Vol. 2), 2019. https://documents.worldbank.org/en/publication/documents-reports/documentdetail/793971568908763231/trends-in-maternal-mortality-2000-to-2017-estimates-by-who-unicef-unfpa-world-bank-group-and-the-united-nations-population-division