In its first report to address sexual health, human rights and the law, the World Health Organization called on policymakers, health care providers, non-governmental organizations and others to remove barriers to information and services.
Developed in collaboration with Sofia Gruskin, director of the USC Program on Global Health & Human Rights, these actions, announced on June 12, align with the organization’s global reproductive health strategy adopted by member-states at the World Health Assembly in 2004.
The value of such a document coming out from WHO cannot be overstated.
“The value of such a document coming out from WHO cannot be overstated,” Gruskin said. “The hope is that countries from all over the world will now use this document to review their laws and ensure they comply with international human rights law — to ensure the health of everyone in their population without distinction.”
Exploring the diversity of sexual behavior and expression — from reproductive health matters to safe, pleasurable experiences “free of coercion, discrimination and violence” — the report recognizes these issues, and the laws that impact them, as contributing factors to people’s well-being and health.
The USC Program on Global Health & Human Rights, Yale Law School and WHO collaborated on guiding the report to fruition, while more than 20 researchers from across the globe contributed to its content.
The impact of good — and repressive — laws
Drawing from a review of public health evidence and research into human rights law at international, regional and national levels, the report details how states can — and do — support sexual health through legal and other mechanisms.
It makes clear the impacts of good laws on positive sexual health and the potentially negative impacts of repressive law on sexual health outcomes.
For example, the decriminalization of sex work in some countries, like Australia, has led to increased condom use, significantly reduced STI prevalence and low rates of HIV infection. Conversely, some countries that criminalize HIV transmission may actually be undermining public health because people fear knowing their status — ultimately leading to increased HIV transmission.
Designed to be globally applicable, the document makes a point not to focus on the United States or Europe, instead highlighting positive angles from countries as diverse as Nepal and Brazil.
Topics addressed in the report include discrimination; sexuality and sexual activities penalization; marriage and family regulation; gender identity and expression; violence; health services availability, accessibility and acceptability; information and education; and sex work.
The publication comes on the heels of a report dispatched by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in early May. It detailed discrimination and violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. A global meeting in Istanbul in early November will focus on dissemination of the reports and country-based work.