Today, some 1.2 billion adolescents (aged 10-19 years) make up 16% of the world’s population. Access to quality sexual and reproductive health services and information is essential to protect their health and their ability to follow their ambitions. Yet around the world, harmful social norms, gender stereotypes, power imbalances, a perceived need to control female sexuality and other inequalities make accessing information and services challenging, if not impossible for adolescents, especially girls.
5 things to know:
While notable progress on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) has occurred in the past 25 years, conservative forces have reversed hard-won rights and threaten to further restrain progress on the health and rights of girls and women.
Two of the leading causes of death for adolescents in the developing world, maternal mortality and AIDS, are related to SRHR and are preventable with adequate treatment and care.
In developing countries, more than 20 million girls and young women aged 15-19 have an unmet need for modern contraception. Globally, approximately 3.9 million adolescent girls risk their lives every year undergoing unsafe abortions.
Research shows that comprehensive sexuality education has positive effects on knowledge and behaviours and can contribute to delayed initiation of sexual activity, reduced risk-taking, and more gender-equitable attitudes.
SRHR is integrated within several regional and international agreements, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. However, several states have made reservations to certain articles in these conventions by which they renege on their obligations to protect SRHR. Other states maintain weak legal frameworks and inadequate enforcement. These obstacles prevent real progress in providing quality and accessible sexual and reproductive health services to all.
What needs to happen:
States must ensure comprehensive sexuality education is accessible for all children, adolescents, and young people, so they can gain knowledge and develop the necessary skills to make conscious, healthy, and respectful choices about relationships and sexuality.
States must increase public funding to ensure that all adolescents and youth, especially girls, have access to comprehensive and age-responsive SRHR education, information, and services, including in humanitarian situations.
All girls and young women should have access to separate and hygienic sanitary facilities in all public spaces, especially in schools as this is critical to ensure their attendance. They should also have access to accurate information about menstruation and clean sanitary equipment.
Cultural traditions, religious beliefs, and social norms should not be reasons for states to ignore international conventions and agreements regarding SRHR. States must ratify and fully implement all conventions or agreements relating to SRHR, withdraw any reservations, align national and local laws and policies, and abolish laws, customs, and practices that discriminate against girls and women.
States, UN agencies and civil society must track progress against SRHR commitments, policies, and programmes concerning girls and young women by collecting relevant data. Data should be disaggregated by age (including the distinct 10-14 age group), sex, location, ethnicity, religion, disability, economic status, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and migratory status. Sensitive data must be collected and stored in line with human rights considerations and relevant data protection standards.