Press Release

The IACHR Urges States to Ensure Adequate Services to Preserve the Sexual and Reproductive Health of Women and Girls During the COVID-19 Pandemic

September 14, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urges States to ensure the continued availability of sexual and reproductive healthcare services for women and girls during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission stresses that these services are essential for women and girls to effectively access their rights to life, equality and non-discrimination, personal integrity, health, dignity, and access to information, among others.

As noted by the IACHR in the past, the pandemic has deepened the structural discrimination and the historical inequality affecting various vulnerable groups. Concerning the rights of women and girls in particular, the pandemic has deepened pre-existing inequalities, which has had an impact on their sexual rights and their reproductive health due to the various measures taken to contain and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Among these measures, the Commission notes budget cuts for healthcare policies with a gender perspective; the lack of staff and technological and other material resources following reallocation to areas that are more directly linked to the pandemic; the closing of clinics that specialize in sexual and reproductive healthcare; and shortages of contraceptives and medication that is specifically linked to the reproductive health of women and girls. The Commission further notes with concern the temporary suspension of prenatal care programs and educational programs to prevent sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

The Commission stresses that States have an obligation to remove all formal and informal barriers that prevent women from accessing the maternal and sexual and reproductive healthcare services they need, including information and education concerning their sexual and reproductive health. Any measures adopted in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic need to take into consideration the specific exclusion of women and must comply with the applicable inter-American standards.

According to the IACHR, a human rights approach requires that budget allocation and execution ensure service availability, continuity, accessibility, acceptability, and quality. This implies that any decisions concerning amounts and beneficiaries must seek to reduce inequality, prioritize groups who have historically been discriminated against, and remove barriers for the exercise of the relevant rights. States must therefore take all measures necessary—with a gender perspective—to ensure that the available resources are urgently used to prevent rollbacks in the enjoyment of the economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights of vulnerable groups.

The IACHR further stresses that the increase in gender-based violence—including domestic violence and sexual violence—during efforts to contain COVID-19 requires the provision of comprehensive healthcare for women survivors, including psychological assistance, emergency contraception, and voluntary termination of pregnancy, where applicable.

The Commission stresses the call it made in Resolution 1/20 concerning States’ obligation to take comprehensive, immediate action to protect and ensure women’s right to sexual and reproductive health, by reinforcing the continued availability of these services in the current emergency context. In particular, the IACHR urges States to ensure access to good-quality maternal healthcare; to ensure safe access to contraception, including emergency contraception; and to facilitate access to the true, uncensored information and the education with a comprehensive gender perspective that are necessary for women and girls to be able to make free, autonomous decisions.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 217/20