Human rights for women's and children's health: examining the evidence


A lunch-time event to discuss a study looking to find evidence that human rights-based approaches have helped to improve women’s and children’s health was held at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. This event, organized by the World Health Organization in collaboration with the missions of the Governments of Brazil and Nepal, was a side event to the twenty-second session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The final study: “Evidence of Impact of a Human Rights-Based Approach to Women’s and Children’s Health” will be launched at a side event to the World Health Assembly (Geneva, May 2013).

Moderated by Marcia Kran, (Director of the Research and Right to Development Division, of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights), the event included keynote speeches from the Deputy Permanent Secretary from the Brazilian Mission in charge of health, labour and environmental issue:, Ms. Maria Luisa Escorel De Moraes, and the Permanent Representative of Nepal to the UN: Mr. Shanker Das Bairagi. As they shared some of the key features and interventions related to human rights-based approaches in their own countries, Ms. Maria Luisa Escorel De Moraes highlighted the “transformative potential of human rights” while Mr. Bairagi focused on how “social justice and access to health are key concepts of this work”.

Assistant-Director General Dr. Flavia Bustreo from the Family, Women's and Children's health cluster of the World Health Organization, and co-author of the study, introduced the project as an attempt to “speak to the skeptics, who in the past might have not embraced the concept of having a human rights-based approach to health”, and stressed the importance of studying and addressing the key questions of how countries utilize human rights-based approaches to health planning and policy making and review how this impacts in the health of people.

Paul Hunt, Senior Adviser on Human Rights to WHO, and Professor of Law at the University of Essex, discussed four of the case studies included in the document which will be launched in May, presenting some of the key findings to the audience while highlighting some of the features for one specific case. The study found that human rights-based approaches, when translated into laws, policies and other interventions, can contribute to improvements on women’s and children’s health, (noting that the improvements are not exclusively linked to the use of a human-rights based approach). He also stressed from the study how a human rights-based approach on women’s and children’s health gains support from an enabling environment with a number of features such as having the right to health enshrined in the country’s Constitution, having ratified key human rights treaties, and counting on high-level political support and a dynamic civil society. He emphasized that one of the conclusions resulting from the study is that there is an urgent need for more research and evaluation on the impact of human rights on women's and children's health.

The discussion ended with interventions from representatives of governments, including Italy, one of the case studies which will be included in the final document, as well as other authors and members of the advisory group who worked on the project, including Dr. Francisco Songane, former minister of health of Mozambique. Other UN Agencies, including UNFPA and UNAIDS, and civil society representatives (Save the Children and World Vision International) as well as others took the floor.