For many years, Hivos has been working on issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) with a strong focus on people’s rights to (bodily) self-determination, freedom of choice and pleasure.
Our approach to sexual and reproductive health and rights is based on a human rights perspective that includes access to safe abortion and contraceptives, reproductive and sexual health services and sex education. Limiting access to SRHR therefore means a violation of human rights.
In itself, SRHR constitutes a sensitive issue in most countries, especially in developing countries where sexual and reproductive rights are often denied or politicised by political and religious leaders. However, Hivos consciously chooses to work in areas within the field of SRHR that are controversial:
- Access to and acceptance of safe abortion
- Combating sexual and domestic violence
- Enhancing the sexual rights and health of marginalised groups, such as sex workers, men who have sex with men (MSM), lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people (LGBT), people living with HIV and AIDS (PLHIV), single women and young people
- Promoting comprehensive sexuality education for young people
This is because we believe adequate knowledge of and access to SRHR will directly contribute to reducing the number of maternal deaths and deaths and injuries from unsafe abortions, and the percentage of people with sexually transmitted disease, such as HIV/AIDS. So we are actively engaged in integrated programmes that link HIV/Aids issues, gender-based violence, poverty and sexual and reproductive rights.
Strategies Hivos uses include joint policy advocacy to influence legislation and policies at national and international level, capacity development of (grassroots) organisations, networking, and development and dissemination of expert knowledge.
Hivos supports and works closely with organisations that dare to stand up for the rights of groups who experience constant social discrimination, marginalisation and who are sometimes even considered outlaws under national legislation.
An important Hivos partner in the area of SRHR is Women on Waves, and its sister initiative Women on Web. The organisation aims to prevent unsafe abortions by providing access to sexual and reproductive health services. They do this by providing early medical abortions (abortion with pills) on board a Dutch ship outside the territorial waters of countries where abortion is illegal. They also provide online services for women to gain access to these pills. Hivos was one of the founding partners of these organisations in the early 2000s and continues to support them today.
Hivos has recently decided to collaborate with Ipas on moving the safe abortion agenda forward in Southern Africa. We belong to the African Coalition for Safe Abortion (ACSA) advisory committee, led by IPAS, which is a broad-based coalition of regional, sub-regional and national health and human rights CSOs that advocates for access to safe and legal abortion services on the continent. IPAS works around the world to advance women's reproductive health and rights and to prevent abortion-related deaths and injuries. Through local, national and global partnerships, Ipas works to ensure that women can obtain safe, respectful and comprehensive abortion care, including counseling and contraception to prevent future unintended pregnancies.
Also in Southern Africa, Hivos supports the Sex Rights Africa Network, a regional networking hub to share information, facilitate networking and coordinate advocacy campaigns/action to realise sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) for all in Southern Africa (and globally). It brings together organisations and individuals working on SRHR across Eastern and Southern Africa, and beyond. It complements, promotes and strengthens existing networks and knowledge management platforms and provides a meeting point at the intersection of HIV/AIDS, health and well-being, and economic, social and cultural rights.
Our SRHR activities have a strong relation to our other themes and programmes, such as Women’s Empowerment, HIV and Human Rights, Voice and LGBT Rights, and always seek to identify interconnections and opportunities to collaborate. A good example of interconnected activities is Hivos’ Women@Work campaign, which addresses women’s rights in the flower industry and advocates for decent work, while combating sexual harassment of women in the workplace.