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Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in the Caribbean: What are those?!

By Vandana Manisha Kissoon

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) is a concept which has been explored for decades. It is the amalgamation of reproductive rights, sexual rights and human rights. The goal being, the achievement of complete physical, mental, emotional and social wellbeing regarding sexuality and reproduction. This entails the realization that human beings have the right to bodily autonomy, to be able have safe and pleasurable sexual experiences, access to SRHR education, resources, services, support and health care. Sexual and reproductive health and rights aid in preventing unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, improve maternal and neonatal health, address gender based violence and prevents, treats and mitigates the effects of sexually transmitted diseases and infections including HIV/AIDS.

In the Caribbean, SRHR is an area begging for attention. Progress has been frustrated by the firm grip conservative and religious ideals have on our society. Fueling a raging culture of intolerance and discrimination for any advancements in the advocacy for sexual and reproductive rights and education. Spreading like wildfire and permeating every sector in our society, marginalized groups such as LGBTQIA+ community, sex workers, immigrants, people with disabilities and adolescents are the most negatively affected by these archaic traditionalist values.

Limiting sexual and reproductive health education in schools by religious organizations to abstinence only programs has left millions of adolescents and young adults without the necessary information to make informed decisions about their sexual health and their sexuality. One would think that if the solution to adolescent pregnancy, unsafe abortion and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and infections (STDs/STIs) was to plaster over it with a barrage of religious scriptures and perpetuating a cycle of discrimination these age old public health issues would not be plaguing us today.

Decades of research has shown the benefits of investing in sexual and reproductive health. Yet our leaders’ halfhearted interests, empty promises and inadequate allocation of funds has had detrimental effects for our region. Each year a striking number of women giving birth in the Caribbean do not receive the required health care needed. Antenatal and postnatal health care is necessary to avert maternal and neonatal deaths and long-term complications yet, 111,000 women have less than four antenatal care visits and 168,000 are not able to give birth at proper health care facilities.

The evident biomedical barrier is one contributing factor as to why sexual and reproductive health care in the Caribbean is treated as a siloed set of health issues. Young people accessing health care usually visit their general practitioners or pediatrician, neither of whom are equipped to deal with key sexual health issues facing the population. Additionally, medical practitioners are not equip with the requisite skills and knowledge to comprehensively and humanely treat the sexual and reproductive health care needs of members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Health care providers’ personal biases and health related stereotypes can also obstruct them from providing impartial, supportive and sensitive care for members of the transgender community. It is unfortunate that in the Caribbean, training for medical practitioners in these essential health dynamics is limited to a couple ethics classes.

A study done by the Guttmacher-Lancet Commission, “Adding It Up”, focused on the need for and impact on the investing in sexual and reproductive health care and services. It highlighted that if $7.90 per capita, just $0.93 above the average capita rate would be able to provide all women in the Caribbean modern contraception, maternal and newborn care, abortion service and STI treatments. This eye-opening statics proves, that the reality of equitable and proper SRHR is not as farfetched as one might have initially thought for us.

The accelerated progress for SRHR in the Caribbean requires us to confront failed policies, outdated religious values, a dire need for separation of church and state and adequate funding. The importance of adopting a holistic approach, realizing that it includes the intersection of all primary and secondary institutions of society identifies a clear path forward for us. It is imperative that our leaders stop treating SRHR as a narrow set of secondary health issues and rights and recognizes that it provides vast economic and social benefits and is central to the health and wellbeing of our people.

References United Nations Population Fund, “Sexual and Reproductive Health.”

Guttmacher Institute, 2021, “Adding It Up: Investing in Sexual and Reproductive Health in the Caribbean.”

PANCAP Global Fund, “Caribbean Regional Youth Advocacy Framework On Sexual & Reproductive Health And Rights.”Guttmacher- Lancet Commission, Ann M Starrs, Alex C Ezeh, et al,“Accelerate progress—sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.”

Vandana M Kissoon is the holder of an LLB (Hons) and is currently pursuing her LPC. She is an animal lover and coffee enthusiast. Vandana is a writer at Feminitt Caribbean and is passionate about dismantling oppressive systems.

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