Sexual and reproductive rights

What is sexual and reproductive health?

Sexual and reproductive health encompasses a wide range of issues such as sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and access to reproductive health services. A working definition used by the United Nations and at other international fora defines sexual and reproductive health as “the equal opportunities, rights and conditions of all people to have a safe and satisfying sexual life, and to be able to decide over their own bodies without coercion, violence or discrimination.”[1]

Why is sexual and reproductive health a human rights issue?

Sexual and reproductive health is contingent on respect for and protection of several key human rights, including:

  • the rights to equality and non-discrimination;
  • the right to be free from torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment;
  • the right to privacy;
  • the rights to the highest attainable standard of health (including sexual health) and social security;
  • the right to marry and to found a family and enter into marriage with the free and full consent of the intending spouses, and to equality in and at the dissolution of marriage;
  • the right to decide the number and spacing of one’s children;
  • the rights to information and education;
  • the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to an effective remedy for violations of fundamental rights.[2]

What are the relevant sources?

Sexual and reproductive health is well established in human rights law.  The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child all contain provisions that protect sexual and reproductive health.

What are the relevant issues/problems with regards to sexual and reproductive health?

Unfortunately, there are many challenges to protecting sexual and reproductive health rights. Gender-based discrimination, lack of access to education, poverty, and sexual violence facilitate violations of these human rights. Amnesty International has identified a number of ways sexual and reproductive rights are often violated, which includes:

How can sexual and reproductive health be protected and improved?

There are several ways health professionals and other members of the public can help protect sexual and reproductive health. Campaigns such as Amnesty International’s “My Body, My Rights” campaign welcomes volunteers. Interested individuals can find more information by visiting the campaign’s web pageOther organizations also work with volunteers. Interested individuals can find a directory of some of these organizations on the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights.

This page was written by Tara Ornstein in October 2015.


[1] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sweden. “Sexual and reproductive health.” Stockholm; 2015. URL:

[2] WHO. “Defining Sexual Health.” Geneva; 2010. URL:

[3] Amnesty International. “Sexual and Reproductive Health.” New York; 2015. URL:



Type of resource: Books and reports

Accelerate progress—sexual and reproductive health and rights for all: report of the Guttmacher–Lancet Commission (2018) - Ann Starrs, Alex Ezeh, Gary Barker et al.
The Lancet

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Type of resource: Books and reports

Practices in adopting a human rights-based approach to eliminate preventable maternal mortality and human rights (2011)
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Open resource
Type of resource: Books and reports

Reproductive Health and Human Rights. The Way Forward (2009) - Laura Reichenbach & Mindy Jane Roseman (Eds),
University of Pennsylvania Press

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Type of resource: Books and reports

Human Rights Guidelines for Pharmaceutical Companies in relation to Access to Medicines: The Sexual and Reproductive Health Context (2009) - Rajat Khosla & Paul Hunt
University of Essex, Right to Health Unit

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Type of resource: Books and reports

Sexual and reproductive health and rights; the link between poverty and health; neglected diseases; and violence prevention (2004) - Annual report to the Human Rights Council, E/CN.4/2004/49
Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health

Open resource