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Feminist and Rights-based Perspectives: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Disaster Contexts

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Why is it crucial to address aspects of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in disasters? Ignoring SRHR in disasters violates human rights, particularly right to the highest attainable standard of health. For example, failing to provide adolescent girls and women with services and counselling for issues such as the sudden stoppage of menstruation, miscarriages, premature delivery, post-partum haemorrhage or breast engorgement (due to the death of breast-feeding infants) in the aftermath of disasters violates their right to non-discrimination in health as stipulated in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Also, incorporating SRHR in disaster risk reduction, response and recovery efforts enhances their efficiency and effectiveness. This includes making maternal and child health facilities disaster-proof, and equipping healthcare providers (such as midwives and community health workers) with disaster preparedness training. Examples of failures to meet these standards in specific regional contexts are given, describing the adverse impacts to the SRHR of women and adolescents, as well as people of diverse genders and sexual identities. Examples of successful grassroots efforts to compensate for the lack of SRHR services are also given. One of these features grassroots women in India contributing to sustainable health service provision following the 2004 tsunami. According to the editorial at the beginning of this issue, there is a need for a UN international human rights instrument to protect the rights of people at risk of and affected by disasters, as well as a monitoring body which can hold governments accountable. The author also recommends that SRHR become integrated into the Hyogo Framework of Action (2000-2015); minimum standards in emergencies be revamped to include a broader range of SRHR concerns in dialogue with rights-holders; SRHR be integrated into governments’ disaster laws and plans; and the institutional capacity of governments, INGOs, NGOs and UN agencies be built to implement SRHR-aware and rights-based disaster plans and programmes.

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