Women, Human Rights & Health
What is the Human Right to Health?
Every woman, man, youth and child has the human right to the
highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
Enjoyment of the human right to health is vital to all aspects of a
person's life and well-being. Many women and girls face serious
obstacles to realization of their human right to health, including
inequality of access to health care, food and nutrition, and
customary practices detrimental to their health and well-being. All
inequalities relating to health and practices harmful to women
violate their fundamental human rights.
The Human Rights at Issue
Human rights relating to health are set out in basic human rights
treaties and include:
The human right to the highest attainable standard of
physical and mental health, including reproductive and sexual
The human right to equal access to adequate health care
and health related services, regardless of sex, race, or other
The human right to equitable distribution of food.
The human right to access to safe drinking water and
The human right to an adequate standard of living and
The human right to a safe and healthy environment.
The human right to a safe and healthy workplace, and to
adequate protection for pregnant women in work proven to be
harmful to them.
The human right to freedom from discrimination and
discriminatory social practices, including female genital
mutilation, prenatal gender selection, and female
The human right to access to information relating to
health, including reproductive health and family planning to
enable couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly
all matters of reproduction and sexuality.
The human right to equality in marriage, including the
equal right of women and men to decide on the number and
spacing of children.
The human right to access to adequate social services,
including access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable
methods of family planning of their choice, as well as other
methods of their choice for regulation of fertility, and the right
of access to appropriate health-care services that will enable
women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth.
The human right to privacy.
The human right to full respect for the inherent dignity
of the person.
The human right to freedom from coercion and violence,
sexual exploitation and forced prostitution.
The human right of the child to an environment
appropriate for physical and mental development.
Governments' Obligations to Ensuring the Human Right to
What provisions of human right law guarantee everyone the
Human Right to Health?
Includes excerpts from the Conventi
on on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against
Women, the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, the Internatio
nal Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Conventio
n on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the
on the Rights of the Child.
- "States Parties shall ... ensure to [women] ... access to specific
educational information to help to ensure the health and well-being
of families, including information and advice on family planning....
States Parties shall ... eliminate discrimination against women in ...
health care ... to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women,
access to health care services, including those related to family
planning....; ensure ... appropriate services in connection with
pregnancy.... States Parties shall ... ensure ... that [women in rural
areas] ... have access to adequate health care facilities, including
information counselling and services in family planning...."
- -- Con
venton on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against
Women, Articles 10, 12, and 14
- "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for ...
health and well-being of himself and his family, including food,
clothing, housing, medical care and the right to security in the event
of ... sickness, disability.... Motherhood and childhood are entitled to
special care and assistance...."
- -- Univ
ersal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25
- "The States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to ... just
and favourable conditions of work which ensure ... safe and healthy
working conditions....; ... the right to ... an adequate standard of living
...; the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and
mental health. The steps to be taken ... to achieve the full realization
of this right shall include those necessary for: ... the reduction of ...
infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child; the
improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene;
the prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic,
occupational and other diseases; the creation of conditions which
would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the
event of sickness."
- -- Inte
rnational Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,
Articles 7, 11, and 12
- "States Parties undertake to ... eliminate racial discrimination ...
and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race,
colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, ... the
right to public health, medical care, social security and social
- -- Conv
ention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,
- "States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment
of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the
treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health...."
- -- Conve
ntion on the Rights of the Child, Article 24
Governments' Commitments to Ensuring the Human Right to
What commitments have governments made to ensuring the
realization of the Human Right to Health?
Includes commitments made at the Earth
Summit in Rio, the Internati
onal Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, the World
Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, and the Habitat II
conference in Istanbul.
- "The explicit recognition ... of the right of all women to control all
aspects of their health, in particular their own fertility, is basic to
their empowerment.... We are determined to ... ensure equal access to
and equal treatment of women and men in ... health care and
enhance womenıs sexual and reproductive health as well as Health."
- -- Beijing Declaration, paras. 17 and 30
- "Women have the right to the enjoyment of the highest
attainable standard of physical and mental health. The enjoyment of
this right is vital to their life and well-being and their ability to
participate in all areas of public and private life.... Women's health
involves their emotional, social and physical well-being and is
determined by the social, political and economic context of their
lives, as well as by biology.... To attain optimal health, ... equality,
including the sharing of family responsibilities, development and
peace are necessary conditions."
- -- Beijing Platform for Action, para. 89
- "Strategic objective ... Increase women's access throughout the
life cycles to appropriate, affordable and quality health care,
information and related services.... Actions to be taken: ... Reaffirm
the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standards of
physical and mental health, protect and promote the attainment of
this right for women and girls and incorporate it in national
legislation...; Provide more accessible, available and affordable
primary health care services of high quality, including sexual and
reproductive health care...; Strengthen and reorient health services,
particularly primary health care, in order to ensure universal access
to health services...; reduce maternal mortality by at least 50 per
cent of the 1990 levels by the year 2000 and a further one half by
the year 2015;... make reproductive health care accessible ... to all ...
no later than ... 2015...; take specific measures for closing the gender
gaps in morbidity and mortality where girls are disadvantaged, while
achieving ... by the year 2000, the reduction of mortality rates of
infants and children under five ... by one third of the 1990 level...; by
the year 2015 an infant morality rate below 35 per 1,000 live
births.... Ensure the availability of and universal access to safe
drinking water and sanitation...."
- -- Beijing Platform for Action, para. 106
- "Health and development are intimately interconnected. Both
insufficient development leading to poverty and inappropriate
development ... can result in severe environmental health problems....
The primary health needs of the world's population ... are integral to
the achievement of the goals of sustainable development and
primary environmental care.... Major goals ... By the year 2000 ...
eliminate guinea worm disease...; eradicate polio;... By 1995 ... reduce
measles deaths by 95 per cent...; ensure universal access to safe
drinking water and ... sanitary measures of excreta disposal...; By the
year 2000 [reduce] the number of deaths from childhood diarrhoea ...
by 50 to 70 per cent..."
- --Agenda 21,Chapter 6, paras. 1 and 12
- "Everyone has the right to the enjoyment of the highest
attainable standard of physical and mental health. States should
take all appropriate measures to ensure, on a basis of equality of
men and women, universal access to health-care services, including
those related to reproductive health care...."
- -- Cairo Programme of Action, Principle
- "The role of women as primary custodians of family health
should be recognized and supported. Access to basic health care,
expanded health education, the availability of simple cost-effective
remedies ... should be provided."
- -- Cairo Programme of Action, para.
- "We commit ourselves to promoting and attaining the goals of
universal and equitable access to ... the highest attainable standard of
physical and mental health, and the access of all to primary health
care, making particular efforts to rectify inequalities relating to social
conditions and without distinction as to race, national origin, gender,
age or disability...."
- -- Copenhagen Declaration, Commitment 6
- "Human health and quality of life are at the centre of the effort
to develop sustainable human settlements. We ... commit ourselves
to ... the goals of universal and equal access to ... the highest
attainable standard of physical, mental and environmental health,
and the equal access of all to primary health care, making particular
efforts to rectify inequalities relating to social and economic
conditions ..., without distinction as to race, national origin, gender,
age, or disability. Good health throughout the life-span of every man
and woman, good health for every child ... are fundamental to
ensuring that people of all ages are able to ... participate fully in the
social, economic and political processes of human settlements ....
Sustainable human settlements depend on ... policies ... to provide
access to food and nutrition, safe drinking water, sanitation, and
universal access to the widest range of primary health-care
services...; to eradicate major diseases that take a heavy toll of
human lives, particularly childhood diseases; to create safe places to
work and live; and to protect the environment.... Measures to
prevent ill health and disease are as important as the availability of
appropriate medical treatment and care. It is therefore essential to
take a holistic approach to health, whereby both prevention and care
are placed within the context of environmental policy....²
- -- Habitat
Agenda, paras. 36 and 128
For more information, please contact PDHRE
The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325;