Putting human rights and gender equality at the centre of family-planning programmes

21 December 2016

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – Ensuring human rights and gender equality in the provision of family-planning information and services is key to achieving universal access to reproductive health, one of the essential targets of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Representatives of governments, healthcare organisations, and civil society in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan took an important step recently towards meeting this target at a technical workshop held in Bishkek from 22 to 24 November. The event was organised by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and the World Health Organisation (WHO), together with the Ministry of Health of the Kyrgyz Republic.

The three-day workshop aimed to familiarise participants with several technical guidelines developed and published by UNFPA and WHO that offer technical and practical orientation to expanding equal access to services and quality care, based on respect for principles of law and gender equality, and ensuring informed decision-making and respect for the dignity, privacy, and confidentiality of the population.

‘The meeting raised vitally important issues on the way towards achieving the well-being and independence of women,’ said Osmonbek Mambetzhanovich Artykbaev, a member of the Kyrgyz Parliament and chair of its Population Committee. ‘The issue of strengthening family-planning services and ensuring access to preferred methods of contraception was widely reviewed, particularly in the context of human rights.’

Workshop participants were comprised of the representatives of the governments of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and their Parliaments, Ombudsman’s Offices, healthcare organisations, and civil society. They exchanged information and experiences, including discussing the latest good practices and challenges in the implementation of family-planning programmes, taking gender equality and human rights into consideration within their healthcare systems.

‘Every citizen should have an opportunity to exercise his or her rights, including reproductive rights,’ said Dinara Shokanova, an expert with the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights in the Republic of Kazakhstan. ‘This subject is very sensitive and therefore needs to be carefully and comprehensively reviewed.’

During the opening session of the workshop, Kyrgyz Republic Health Minister Talantbek Batyraliev spoke about his country’s policy on ​​maternal and child health and how it aims at creating an effective system of healthcare provision with improved accessibility and quality at all levels. One of the main challenges facing the healthcare system is the creation of favourable conditions for desired number of children to be born; these include ensuring the health of pregnant women and their ability to delivery safely, as well as the provision of accessible and reliable information to the public in the area of reproductive health and family planning.

‘I see maternal mortality as a violation of human rights,’ said Turdumamatova Mahabat Karimovna, the head of the Department for Protection from Domestic Violence and Gender-based Discrimination within the Ombudsman’s Office of Kyrgyzstan. ‘Provision of and access to information on methods of contraception and family planning are powerful tools to prevent maternal mortality.’

Maternal and child health is one of the four priority areas of ‘Den Sooluk’, the National Healthcare Reform Programme of the Kyrgyz Republic. In 2015, the country adopted a new reproductive rights law that determines state policy in the field of citizens’ reproductive health and rights and the guarantees of their implementation, including the rights to safe pregnancy and to use contraception. Since 2015, all uninsured women in the Kyrgyz Republic have been provided with access to mandatory health insurance programmes during their periods of pregnancy and post-partum through provision of free insurance. This method also allows them access to provision of preferential medicines.

As a result of the workshop, the participating countries will review the future direction of their work in the field of family planning with the goal of further integrating a gender and human-rights perspective into the national programmes of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The workshop piloted a region-specific package that will now also be rolled out in other countries across the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region.