The Intersection of Global Health, Gender and Human Rights

The Intersection of Global Health, Gender and Human Rights

Speakers at the Inaugural Conference on Global Health, Gender and Human Rights. {Photo credit: PAHO/WHO.}Photo credit: PAHO/WHO.

Health is a human right and should not be denied based on any factor, including gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.

On March 21 and 22, 2012, law students, global health professionals, and human rights experts gathered at the Inaugural Conference on Global Health, Gender and Human Rights at American University to discuss tackling global health issues from a human rights perspective.

Co-hosted by the American University Washington College of Law, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Guatemala, the two-day conference focused on six crucial topics: disabilities, women's and adolescent girls’ health, gender identities, older persons, access to medicines, and tobacco control.

Speakers and participants articulated the important role gender and human rights play in the promotion of health around the world.

When discussing the topic of gender identities, Paula Uribe from the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the U.S. Department of State declared, “The sexual acts of a person should not determine their humanity.” Nor should it determine their right to health care.

Allison deFranco, director of the BlueLaw International Human Rights & Inclusive Development Practice, and Rhonda Nehause, policy analyst for Government Affairs at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, emphasized the need to shift from charity models of disability to the social model. “People with disabilities can be part of all parts of society,” stated Nehause.

Marcos Acle from the Organization of American States’ Department of Social Development and Employment emphasized a similar approach while speaking about older persons: “We need to have a rights focus, not a needs focus. Conditions need to enable these people to be active members of society.”

Promoting equal access to health care for women, men, girls, and boys is essential to saving lives and improving health worldwide.

Lilian Sepulveda, deputy director of the International Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights, discussed the capacity of the human rights approach to promote maternal health. She cited multiple female-specific health and human rights issues, including the lack of access to family planning and reproductive health services. “The unmet need for family planning and contraception, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean, is enormous,” explained Sepulveda.

Safe, accessible family planning and reproductive services are crucial for improving the health of women and girls.

Global health, gender and human rights experts gather at the Inaugural Conference on Global Health, Gender and Human Rights. Photo credit: PAHO/WHO.

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Taylor Stewart is policy and advocacy intern with MSH. Taylor attends the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University.