UN human rights commissioner emphasizes importance of women's rights in Zika response

The UN human rights commissioner recently emphasized the importance of supporting women's rights in the international Zika virus response. | Courtesy of Shutterstock

United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Al Hussein has called for a proper response to women's human rights in regard to the Zika virus.

“Upholding human rights is essential to an effective public health response, and this requires that governments ensure women, men and adolescents have access to comprehensive and affordable quality sexual and reproductive health services and information, without discrimination,” he said.

Some governments are urging women to delay getting pregnant in order to avoid the negative consequences of the virus because it can result in microcephaly, a disease that causes newborns to have unusually small heads.

“Clearly, managing the spread of Zika is a major challenge to the governments in Latin America,” Al Hussein said. “However, the advice of some governments to women to delay getting pregnant ignores the reality that many women and girls simply cannot exercise control over whether or when or under what circumstances they become pregnant, especially in an environment where sexual violence is so common.”

Al Hussein is also calling on countries that limit women’s rights to repel laws and policies that restrict access to quality sexual and reproductive health care. He hopes to ensure that women get the right information and services they need.

“In situations where sexual violence is rampant -- and sexual and reproductive health services are criminalized, or simply unavailable -- efforts to halt this crisis will not be enhanced by placing the focus on advising women and girls not to become pregnant,” he said. “Many of the key issues revolve around men’s failure to uphold the rights of women and girls, and a range of strong measures need to be taken to tackle these underlying problems.”

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