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Sexual Rights Are Human Rights!

Sexual Rights Are Human Rights!
The Family Life Association of Swaziland (FLAS) took a paradigm and strategic shift in 1999 after the IPPF conference to focus on young people and integrate Sexual and Reproductive and Health Rights programing. The focus has brought about a lot of controversy amongst the conservative and religious sector especially when SRHR is used in conjunction with young people. Hence the objective of today’s article is to explain what are Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights as well as the essence of providing comprehensive SRHR services and information to young people in Eswatini.
Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) encompasses all of the rights and issues surrounding a person’s Sexual and Reproductive life. These rights are closely linked with other internationally recognised human rights, such as the right to privacy, the right to education and information, the right to equality and freedom from violence and all forms of discrimination, the right to the highest attainable standard of health etc.

The term SRHR combines four separate but interrelated concepts: Sexual Health (SH), Reproductive Health (RH), Sexual Rights (SR) and Reproductive Rights (RR). Sexual and Reproductive Health cover the right to decide if, when and how often to have children, right to live free from diseases, the right to have access to accurate, comprehensive and confidential information. On the other hand, Sexual and Reproductive Rights cover the sexual pleasure, the right to sexual privacy, the right to have the full range of contraceptives, the right to choose your partner as well.
SRHR therefore encompasses many human rights that are internationally, regionally and nationally recognised and protected. These Rights are still considered extremely controversial, especially when this term is used in conjunction to young people. They are particular contentious as they also recognise and protect sexual and gender diversity, issues which are not yet accepted in many communities.

SRHR and Youth Situation in Eswatini
FLAS primarily focus on young people aged 10-24 years to provide comprehensive and integrated SRHR services and information. The reasons the Association focuses in the area of SRHR are outlined below:

The country has signed and ratified a number of SRH international and regional policies, some of which have been operationalised through policies and legislation. However, there still remains a gap in terms of implementation due to the unawareness by the population – at all levels and absence of operational instruments such as guidelines and legislation. This is notable in areas affecting women and girls. In spite of the many efforts to stimulate interest in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights matters, knowledge and support remains relatively weak across the board.
Although there has been a notable improvement in the policy framework in the country over the years, there still remain some barriers to making healthy choices. The policy environment with respect to social and programmatic enablers is particularly challenging with concerns ranging from the protection of adolescent girls from sexual violence, discrimination and the enabling environment for meaningful consultation with and engagement of adolescents.

Maternal and new-born deaths during childbirth are a result of a complex mix of factors such as inadequate services, low levels of community awareness, physical and financial barriers as well as traditional cultural values and gender norms. In Swaziland, all of these factors play a role and are further complicated by the severe HIV epidemic.
Swaziland has one of the highest maternal mortality rate at 589 per 100 000 live births and, the infant mortality also stands at 85 per 1000 live births. The high maternal mortality is as a result of various factors and compounded by the HIV situation where 26% of the reproductive population is living with HIV and HIV prevalence.

In a country where the general dominating trends are pervasive poverty and economic inequality, access to quality Sexual and Reproductive Health services remains a key priority area. The social marginalization of vulnerable groups calls for stimulation of a better policy landscape and service delivery mechanisms. Limited access to appropriate information, gender inequality, abuse of cultural norms also add to the barriers that limit service availability and as well as service uptake in settings where those services have been made available

With over 50% of the country’s total population below age 20, there is a need to prioritise young people and enhancing their capacities to make informed decisions. One of the most striking manifestations of this is that, 45% of the under-18 populations is orphaned or vulnerable (MICS 2015), with one in every four Swazi children having lost one or both parents.  These youths are at increased risk of childhood poverty, abuse, violence and low educational attainment, which in turn further increases their vulnerability to contracting HIV (NERCHA 2014).

It is vital to the future of Swaziland that young people be afforded opportunities for social, personal and professional growth and development.  Most urgently, they require access to activities that will equip them with the information, confidence and ability to not only participate fully in society, but also navigate the multitude of life choices and issues that lay before them.

FLAS together with IPPF will strive to work towards a world where women, men and young people everywhere have control over their own bodies, and their destinies. A world where they are free to choose parenthood or not; free to decide how many children they will have and when; free to pursue healthy sexual lives without fear of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. A world where gender or sexuality are no longer a source of inequality or stigma. We will not retreat from doing everything we can to safeguard these important choices and rights for current and future generations.

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