Tuesday, 5 December 2017
In May this year, the High-Level Working Group for Health and Human Rights of Women, Children and Adolescents launched its report—the first of its kind, presented to both the World Health Assembly and the Human Rights Council. Established in 2016, this nine-member group, including my friend Natasha Stott Despoja—previously our Ambassador for Women and Girls and a senator in this place—and co-chaired by Tarja Halonen, the former President of Finland, and Hina Jilani, from Pakistan, was tasked with securing political support for the implementation of the human rights related measures contained in the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda 2020 and the Global Strategy.
If rights to health and through health are upheld, delivery of the sustainable development goals will leave no-one behind. The basic right to health does not stand alone but is indivisible from other human rights. Good health not only depends on but is a prerequisite for pursuing and achieving our rights. Our human rights cannot be fully enjoyed without access to health services. We all must have the right to the highest sustainable standard of physical and mental health without discrimination wherever we are and whatever our circumstances. The co-chairs clearly state in the report:
Healthy women, children and adolescents whose rights are protected are the very heart of sustainable development. When their right to health is upheld, their access to all other human rights is also enhanced, triggering a cascade of transformative change.
This report is inspired by the human rights principles of equality, inclusiveness, nondiscrimination, participation and accountability. It goes on to say:
Worldwide, the need to realize rights to health and through health has never been more urgent. Discrimination, abuse and violence against women, children and adolescents—the most widespread of human rights violations—erode physical and mental health, stealing the personal destinies of millions, and robbing the world of precious and needed talent, potential and contribution.
This report identifies the threats of urbanisation, displacement, climate instability, environmental degradation and pollution. The terrible violent conflicts across the globe are forcing people from their homes, destroying families and communities and causing marginalisation. Desperate people have limited access to effective health care, and their lives and futures are destroyed.
The realisation of human rights, particularly for women, through access to sexual and reproductive health and rights remains seriously uneven or even unattainable at country level, further eroding the chances for education, economic independence or protection from forced marriage. Limited choices create limited lives. We need committed political leadership at international, national and local levels to address inequities in health solutions and gender based and other forms of discrimination, and to implement and resource reform of health systems. Informed, committed leadership with systemic accountability will produce sustained abandonment of harmful practices, inspire action in support of human rights to health and through health, and ensure that policies and programs are delivered, developed, resourced and monitored, and actually do get results.
We have an unprecedented opportunity in these challenging times. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides the opportunity. It reaffirms that states must:
… respect, protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, disability or other status.
It emphasises that the STGs will not be achieved unless and until human rights and dignity are ensured for every individual. Again, the message is 'leaving no-one behind'. Each country has its own challenges and must make decisions which will determine the benefits of development. By ensuring the engagement, empowerment and dignity of women, children and adolescence, each nation can manage their actions and outcomes.
Realising the sustainable development vision for women, children and today's 1.8 billion young people—almost a quarter of the world's population—will change lives for the better, bring lasting gains for communities and contribute significantly to programs across all the sustainable development goals, securing more equitable social, economic and environmental development and a more just and sustainable peace. This is the real link with The global strategy for women's, children's and adolescents' health, which was published in 2016 to cover the period 2016 to 2030. The vision is of a world in which every woman, child and adolescent, in every setting, realises their rights to physical and mental health wellbeing, has social and economic opportunities, and is able to participate fully in shaping sustainable and prosperous societies.
By promoting human rights to health and through health for the most marginalised, by recognising age groups' distinctive needs and adopting a gender-sensitive life-course approach, and by making the real challenge to social and reproductive health and rights concerns, this global strategy offers a comprehensive human rights based roadmap to health. It offers the path which, if implemented and driven by government leadership, will allow women, children and adolescents to not only survive but thrive and transform the world. This report builds on international law, discussions and reports from the UN, the WHO, global agreements and treaties in evidence over many years. It is being informed by expert advice and detailed work by a specialist technical group. Stakeholders and contributions across the system were engaged by the working group, and their evidence is actually listed within the report with great reference points for people to take more information.
The report calls for leadership, engagement and action. It encourages leaders to realise rights to health and through health. It seeks to inspire leaders to act with confidence and conviction. It urges strong leadership and the formation of effective partnerships across service providers, the media, donor and recipient countries, and public and private sectors. The need is great, but we do have the information. We have the references and we know that the terrible waste of lives and futures cannot continue. Hina Jilani, one of the co-chairs, said:
Many promises have been made but still millions of women, children and adolescents are denied their fundamental human rights, leading to preventable deaths, injury, physical and mental illness and other harm. Despite medical breakthroughs and scientific advances, societies continue to undervalue the health and dignity of women, children and adolescents, undermining their rights and dismissing their rightful claims…
Natasha Stott Despoja, speaking at the launch, said: 'The pathway we can take is laid out in front of us. We can see it clearly, and that is what our report asserts.'
There were three key areas for action. The first is creating enabling environments for rights to and through health by: upholding the right to health in national law; establishing a rights based approach to health financing and universal health coverage; and addressing human rights as determinants of health. The second focus is partnering with people themselves by: removing social, gender and cultural norms that impede realisation of human rights; enabling women, children and adolescents to claim their human rights; empowering and protecting human rights defenders; and ensuring accountability to the people by the people. The third focus is strengthening evidence and public accountability by: collecting data on the status of human rights in and through health; and systemically reporting on progress.
In launching the report, it was important to achieve greater momentum in the global effort. In giving the report to both the human rights assembly and also to the WHO, the leaders of those organisations were urged to: establish a joint program of work to support the implementation of recommendations, including at the regional and country levels; build institutional capacity and expertise at their headquarters and at regional and country levels to assist states to advance their realisation of human rights to health and through health, particularly for women, children and adolescents; and ensure ongoing coordination of, and tracking of progress towards, the realisation of human rights, particularly for women, children and adolescents, which will enable prompt dissemination of good practice.
The WHO and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights now have this report. Leaders from countries of the world now have the report. I'm hoping that I have approval to table the report in the Senate this evening so that we in this place now have the report—55 pages, which are well worth a read, and I think will make sure that we are part of the international response.
As we acknowledge International Human Rights Day, on Friday, 8 December, we can share the valuable knowledge and experience that this working group has given us, and I really do want to acknowledge the hard work, dedication and commitment of these people from across the world, who gathered together over a year to ensure that we would have the knowledge that is before us now. As the co-chairs have stated, we have the knowledge, means and motivation to act. Let's not wait a moment longer. I seek leave to table the document.