The United Nations recognizes sexual and reproductive health (SRH) as a keystone on which sustainable development is based— and these goals were first outlined at the1994 International Conference on Population and Development. In mid-November, the 2019 High-Level Commission on the Nairobi Summit, or ICPD+25, released a groundbreaking new report that builds on this framework. The report examines global progress and setbacks regarding sexual health and rights that occurred since 2019. It recommends that countries take steps to “unwind” the various social, political, and economic barriers that hinder the advancement of SRH.


Positively, the report sheds light on how roughly 77 percent of low- and middle- income countries have created plans to develop or execute national commitments to sexual and reproductive health or have developed monitoring and evaluation systems. The recent progress in Latin America and Africa- notably the legalization of abortion in Mexico, Argentina, and Columbia that resulted from women’s movements- sharply contrasts events transpiring in Eastern Europe and the United States.


Indeed, this report also highlighted the major setbacks that have occurred over the past three years. Notably, the restriction of health services during COVID-19, sexual violence caused by the war in Ukraine, and the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the United States.


The rapture and devastation felt by women affected by SRH policies is captured by the cover image of the UN report: the text reads “Sexual and reproductive health as the vehicle to deliver the Nairobi Summit’s commitments” and it surrounds a woman’s face.”



Major highlights from this report are summarized below:



“What has transpired in the United States contrasts with recent progress in Latin America and Africa, which has become an inspiration for the fight for sexual and reproductive justice worldwide. On the heels of successful advocacy by women’s movements in Mexico and Argentina, Colombia legalized abortion in 2022. In November 2021, Benin’s Parliament voted to legalize abortion in most circumstances, a groundbreaking move on the African continent, where 92 percent of women of reproductive age live under restrictions. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, the first country in Francophone Africa to broaden access to abortion care, endorsed guidelines to implement the directives of the African Protocol on the Rights of Women (the Maputo Protocol). In July 2022, Sierra Leone took steps to overturn colonial-era abortion laws following decades of advocacy by the women’s movement and government officials. Parliament will debate a draft bill decriminalizing abortion that has drawn high-level political support; it is expected to pass before the end of 2022.”



“The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the harm done by the failure of many governments to craft a gender-informed response. This undermined sexual and reproductive health and rights through the restriction and interruption of services deemed unessential, unequal access to digital technology, and structural barriers to care faced by diverse women, adolescents, persons with disabilities, low-income individuals, refugees and persons of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity. Financial insecurity, lockdowns, and constrained health, social and legal services allowed gender-based violence to proliferate. Numerous governments hesitated to enact additional protections for victims and survivors.”



“Abortion is currently banned in 17 states, with additional states expected to enact restrictions. In many states, exceptions do not exist for abortion in cases of rape or incest, violating international law. Black and brown people and individuals below the poverty line – who already face limited access to sexual and reproductive health services like contraception while experiencing inequities across broader social and economic dimensions – are likely to bear the burden of these restrictions as they make up the majority of those who obtain abortions in the United States. The Commission remains concerned about the effects of this decision, as it fears it will only increase the number of unsafe abortions and result in more maternal deaths. It will likely strengthen anti-abortion and conservative movements seeking to restrict progress on sexual and reproductive rights worldwide.”



“The invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation has forced millions of women and girls to flee their homes. This has subjected them to acts of sexual violence, such as gang rape and coercion, and put them at increased risk of human trafficking for sexual exploitation and transactional sex. The invasion has also created serious challenges and barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive health care. The WHO has documented over 500 confirmed attacks that impacted health-care facilities.”


Find the new report here: The UN Report on Sexual and Reproductive Justice.



Terry McGovern, Heilbrunn, R., & Heilbrunn, H. (2022, November 9). Sexual and reproductive justice as the vehicle to deliver the Nairobi Summit commitments. Nairobi Summit.

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