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Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights

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The term “sexual and reproductive health and rights” (SRHR) is said to have been articulated decades ago during the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCW) which took place in Beijing. With precedence to the World Health Organisation's definition of health, the Cairo Programme defined reproductive health as[1]


“A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and...not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and processes. Reproductive health therefore implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so. Implicit in this last condition are the right of men and women to be informed and to have 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 which are not against the law, and the right of access to appropriate health-care services that will enable women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth and provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant (para 72)”.

At the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development, countries were called upon to address the SRHR needs of adolescents and young people and to secure the reproductive rights of women and girls. Significant milestones have been reached and many stakeholders hold the conviction that promotion of adolescent sexual and reproductive health is a prerequisite in securing reproductive health and wellbeing in later life. But existential challenges are noted especially in addressing of gender norms, attitude of health care workers towards adolescents and social economic barriers in access to SRHR services. These continue to affect both young women and young men as they transition to adulthood[2].

Over the past decades, the HIV epidemic has shaped the agenda on adolescent health, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa

More efforts have been given and with reason to HIV prevention among adolescent girls and young women, given their higher levels of HIV-incidence when compared to their male counterparts of the same age bracket. Conceptions around risk and vulnerability to HIV, gender disparities, early marriages and teenage pregnancy brought adolescent girls and young women to the attention of many SRHR donors and programme implementers

TARJA HALONEN-Former President of Finland

Sexual and reproductive health and rights must be affirmed as a non-negotiable aspect of the post-2015 agenda

Sexual and reproductive health is faced with numerous challenges on a global scale. Some of them include the following[3];

  • Socio-cultural norms and ideological opposition to family planning such as within the practice Catholicism.
  • Insufficient data which makes it difficult to design evidence based interventions. In many Low and Middle Income countries (LMICs), Management Information systems are characterized by missing data, incomprehensive and non-disaggregated indicators creating an evidence gap.
  • Chronic underfunding of SRHR including family planning especially by governments in LMICs.
  • Weak and overwhelmed health systems in the LMICs, with limited prioritization of sexual and reproductive health

Even within the storm of challenges lies opportunity. Below are our thoughts on the opportunities for the strengthening of global SRHR[4].

  • One good opportunity is the human rights movement where sexual and reproductive health is enshrined as a human right. Women’s rights have also categorically identified SRH as a core aspect supported by an increasingly vocal and activist feminist rights movement. Sexual and reproductive rights are not an add-on but rather an application of already enshrined human rights to areas of sexuality and reproduction.
  • The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) particularly SDG Target 3.7 states that “By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information & education, & the integration of reproductive health into national strategies”[1]. This provides an enabling environment and hence an opportunity to advocate and promote SRHR.
  • Lastly, digital health innovations continuously open new frontiers for promoting access to SRHR products and information especially amongst the remote and underserved populations.


  • Strengthen community engagement and dialogue to promote social norms shifting interventions. This is necessary to address the opposition to family planning amongst other SRHR products and services.
  • Improve data governance to ensure that Health Management Information systems provide timely, comprehensive and disaggregated indicators for informed decision making.
  • Apportion more resources to support SRHR. Governments especially in the LMICs need to invest more and reduce over reliance on donor funding.
  • Prioritize SRHR as a key investment area and strengthen programme coordination, monitoring, evaluation and learning to ensure continuous improvement.

  • Carry out research and evaluation of Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights programmes.
  • Design and development of SRHR projects and programmes
  • Build capacity of local and international organizations in Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights
  • Development and review of SRHR policy, advocacy and communication materials
  • Development of SRHR toolkits


  1. Guttmacher Institute. “The Growing Challenge of Meeting the Reproductive Health Needs of Women in Humanitarian Situations | Guttmacher Institute,” February 10, 2017.
  2. Mehta, Supriya Dinesh, and Janet Seeley. “Grand Challenges in Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health.” Frontiers in Reproductive Health 2 (June 18, 2020): 2.
  3. The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics. “Three Challenges and Opportunities for SRHR,” 2007.
  4. “SDG Target 3.7 | Sexual and Reproductive Health: By 2030, Ensure Universal Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health-Care Services, Including for Family Planning, Information & Education, & the Integration of Reproductive Health into National Strategies.” Accessed February 6, 2024.
  5. Women Win. “What Is SRHR?” Accessed February 6, 2024.

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