Asia Pacific Region Lags Behind in SRHR

Rose Koenders, APA
Shobha Shukla, CNS Columnist
At the last sixth Asia Pacific Population Conference (APPC), held in September 2013 in Bangkok, member States and civil society discussed the status and progress on population and development and to highlight the most urgent needs of the region. The meeting was part of the regional review of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action (PoA). The article below is based upon an interview Citizen News Service (CNS) did with Rose Koenders, Executive Director at Asia Pacific Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (APA).

At the APPC member states were called upon to ensure the implementation of comprehensive sexuality education and youth friendly programmes, recognizing the evolving capacities of the child and the informed decisions of adolescents and young people regarding their sexuality, from a participatory, inter-cultural, gender sensitive and human rights perspective. It was also urged to establish global partnerships as under MDG Goal 8 by allocating 0.7% of their Gross National Income towards overall Overseas Development Assistance.

What was evident at the meeting, and is still now, is that in the region of Asia and the Pacific, though there has been continued progress towards fulfilling the ICPD Programme of Action, progress in sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender equality is unacceptably slow and inconsistent, and needs urgent prioritization and investment. In the Asia-Pacific region lack of information on sexual and reproductive health, and limited access to related services, is contributing to unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions and too many women are still dying in child birth. These gaps also expose millions to the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Also, there are striking disparities both between and within countries of this region. Member states have to address the issues of growing inequalities within and between individuals and countries, through adoption of human rights-based approaches to negotiations and standard setting processes at the national, regional and global levels, as an integral part of the population and development agenda.

Key issues that need urgent attention are: recognition of sexual rights, besides reproductive rights; eliminating violence and having laws that do not allow discrimination regarding sexual orientations and gender identities; and the rights of young people and the specific need for comprehensive sexuality education for them. Sexual and reproductive health and rights of vulnerable groups such as migrants also merit attention, among others. In fact all persons should have the right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including their sexual and reproductive health, free from coercion, discrimination and violence.

Another important element is to recognize that unsafe abortion is a public health and human rights challenge and it is a pity that some governments still not decriminalize abortion and legalise abortion without conditionality. Also laws on conscientious objection, parental and spousal consent, must not restrict women and adolescents’ access to reproductive health information, education and services, and in particular safe abortion services. 

Apart from this access to prevention, diagnosis and treatment for women’s cancers is an emerging challenge and efforts to tackle this menace are lagging behind. It has emerged as a leading and often preventable cause of death of women and this needs to be addressed in the future.
Shobha Shukla, Citizen News Service (CNS)
March 2014
(The author is the Managing Editor of Citizen News Service - CNS. She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA and received her editing training in Singapore. She has earlier worked with State Planning Institute, UP and taught physics at India's prestigious Loreto Convent. She also co-authored and edited publications on childhood TB, childhood pneumonia, Hepatitis C Virus and HIV, violence against women and girls, and MDR-TB. Email:, website: