Women’s and children’s health and human rights

July 18, 2013

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The research report ‘Women’s and Children’s Health: Evidence of Impact of Human Rights’ demonstrates plausible evidence that a human rights-based approach contributes to health improvements for women and children. The report was compiled by a group of experts led by Flavia Bustreo of the World Health Organization, and Paul Hunt, former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health (2002-2008).

Progress and challenges

The past two decades have seen significant reductions in maternal and child mortality. For instance, the number of maternal deaths in the world decreased from 543,000 in 1990 to 287,000 in 2010, and the number of deaths among children under five years declined from 12 million in 1990 to 6.9 million in 2010. Notwithstanding these improvements, the health challenges for women and children remain enormous in many countries. The report stresses that women’s health needs go beyond sexual and reproductive concerns, while children’s health needs extend beyond under-five mortality. For instance, chronic diseases, injuries and mental ill-health take a terrible toll on women, as well as violence. These are not just health challenges – they are also human rights challenges. Applying human rights to women’s and children’s health interventions not only helps governments comply with their binding obligations, but also contributes to improving the health of women and children.

Health rights principles

The authors argue that the constitutional and international right to health can be translated into improved health services and health status through laws, policies and programmes that are explicitly shaped by health rights principles, such as accessibility, quality, participation and accountability. They also note a lack of research and evaluation on this issue and highlight the need for a multidisciplinary network of policymakers, practitioners and scholars interested in research on, and evaluation of, the impact of a human rights-based approach on women’s and children’s health.


This report is intended primarily for members of governments and public health professionals engaged in policy development, monitoring, evaluation and research in the field of women’s and children’s health. It will also be of interest to parliamentarians, foundations and civil society organisations that collaborate with public health policy-makers, and researchers in public health and human rights.

Download Women’s and Children’s Health: Evidence of Impact of Human Rights (PDF)