Reproductive Rights as Human Rights

New York, October 21, 2013—The international legal framework for human rights has become a key tool in the fight for women’s access to reproductive health services around the world, said Katherine E. Mayall, Global Advocacy Adviser at the Center for Reproductive Rights, in an October 6 talk at Columbia Law School.

“Reproductive rights are human rights,” Mayall said. “The human rights framework enables advocates to put the onus on states to live up to their international legal obligations.”

Advocates pursue women’s reproductive rights on various levels, Mayall explained. Internationally, they work to educate U.N. officials and pressure states to comply with obligations under international agreements like the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). More locally, they collaborate with organizations to provide technical guidance in comparative law and human rights standards.

While the domestic political debate around reproductive health services often revolves around abortion, Mayall offered examples of other important work advocates are taking on, from Kenyan hospitals’ detention of women with unpaid medical bills to the sterilization of women who are HIV-positive in Chile.

“I cannot emphasize enough the importance of understanding the experience on the ground of the populations you are trying to effectuate long-term change for,” Mayall said.

The event was co-hosted by the Law School's Human Rights Institute and Social Justice Initiatives. In introducing Mayall, Maddie Kurtz, SJI's director of public interest professional development, noted that the weekly speaker series brings to campus lawyers engaged with social justice in a variety of important and substantive ways.