Amnesty International new campaign defends sexual, reproductive rights

Organization will work to decriminalize abortion and homosexuality and give women access to contraceptives

Members of Amnesty International hold a sign and some balloons in Nuwakot, Nepal on March 6, 2014.
Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters

The nonprofit advocacy group Amnesty International launched a global campaign “My Body My Rights” on Thursday, in response to what it says is the growing number of laws around the world criminalizing people’s sex lives and restricting women’s control over their bodies.

The two-year campaign seeks to “stop the control and criminalization of sexuality and reproduction by governments and others” by urging leaders to stop using the law to discriminate against women and sexual minorities, remove obstacles to sexual and reproductive health services and empower those affected to advocate for their rights.

“One of the things that we’ve seen is that so many rights violations are rooted in the ability to control one’s body — whether that be when and if to get married, decide when and if to have sex, accessing public services, accessing health services, but also accessing other services that are related to the body,” said Tarah Demant, the co-chair of the organizations Woman’s Human Rights Coordination Group.

"These are human rights that apply to everyone and everybody, but we specifically are targeting a number of areas that we see the need for basic human rights are the greatest."

The organization cites laws like those in Nicaragua that ban abortion even in life-threatening situations or in cases of rape or child pregnancy; in Nepal that keep women from having access to basic information about child birth and sexual health; and laws, like the one enacted in Nigeria in January, that prohibit same-sex marriage.

The briefing also highlights efforts to restrict abortion in Turkey, Macedonia and Lithuania as part of the problem, and Demant called out the United States for its lack of rights for women and gays when it comes to making decisions about their own bodies and sex lives.

The campaign will target young people in seven countries through social media ­— Algeria, Burkina Faso, El Salvador, Ireland, Morocco, Nepal and Tunisia. They will also work to decriminalize abortion in Ireland, after Indian national Savita Halappanavar died when she was denied an emergency abortion.

Abortion in Ireland became legal in July under limited circumstances where the mother’s life is at risk.

The briefing released ahead of the launch contained sobering figures:

More than 14 million adolescent girls give birth each year, mainly a result of coerced sex and unwanted pregnancy, and 215 million women do not use contraception even though they want to stop or delay having children.

Same-sex activity is illegal in 76 countries, 36 of them in Africa, and in 24 European countries, governments force transgender people to be sterilized to have their gender legally recognized, according to the briefing.

"We want to help the next generation realize and claim their sexual and reproductive rights," Amnesty Secretary-General Salil Shetty told the AFP news agency.

"Together we want to send a clear and unequivocal message to governments that this kind of overreaching control violates human rights and is simply unacceptable."

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