Sexual reproductive health and rights of women and girls | ActionAid UK

Sexual reproductive health and rights of women and girls

Shubarna (centre), 13, collects corn with her friends and neighbours, Shika (left), 14, and Laboni (right), 13. Shurbarna wants to become a doctor to help the people in her village in Faridpur District, Bangladesh

Women’s control over their own bodies is central to achieving gender equality. Denying or limiting women’s and girls’ sexual reproductive rights has devastating consequences for their lives, and repercussions for their families and communities. 

What are sexual reproductive health and rights?

Sexual reproductive health and rights means the right for everyone, regardless of age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, HIV status or other aspects of identity, to make informed choices regarding their own sexuality and reproduction.

It includes the right to make informed choices about whether or when they have children, the right to access the full range of affordable and informed family planning services, including safe abortion, the right to accurate information and services to prevent and treat sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV and AIDS, and sexual health information and education. 

ActionAid supports the rights of women and girls around the world to claim their full range of sexual and reproductive rights, and we challenge practices that deny them control over their own bodies. 

Why FGM is a form of violence against women and girls

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the partial or full cutting of a girl’s clitoris and labia, for non-medical reasonsIt is a form of violence against women and girls because it is used to control a survivor’s body. 

The families of girls undergoing FGM can be unaware of the devastating risks of this practice for girls’ health: FGM can cause severe bleeding, infection, infertility and even death. Between 100 and 140 million women and girls have undergone FGM worldwide.1 

  • 1. Prevention of violence against women and girls: what does the evidence say?, The Lancet:

What is a child bride?

Child marriage is defined as a formal marriage or informal union before the age of 18. Girls are disproportionately more likely than boys to be married before this age. 

Early or forced child marriage puts girls at a higher risk of sexual, physical and psychological violence throughout their lives.2 It is a violation of girls’ rights as, very often, marriage happens against the girl’s will and she is physically and emotionally unprepared for sexual activity, pregnancy and child birth. 

Child brides often marry much older men and have limited power to choose whether they have sex and when to use protection and family planning methods. This leaves them vulnerable to forced sex and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV, and unplanned pregancies. Nearly 70 million girls worldwide have been married before the age of 18 - many of them against their will.3

  • 2. Girls Not Brides: ‘Why is child marriage a form of violence against women and girls?:
  • 3. Girls Not Brides:

The impact of restricting access to safe abortions

Around the world, many countries restrict access to safe, legal, affordable abortion, putting thousands of women’s lives at risk. In 2014, between 22,500 and 44,000 women died as a result of unsafe abortion, accounting for between 8 and 18% of maternal deaths worldwide.1

Most of these deaths occur in developing countries, with the highest number in Africa. Allowing women and girls access to information about their sexual reproductive health and rights, including modern contraception and safe abortion, would prevent unplanned pregancies, STIs, and would save the lives of some of the poorest, most marginalised women and girls. 

It would also have a positive impact on gender equality more broadly, including women’s economic rights. While there continues to be strong opposition to sexual reproductive health and rights in many parts of the world, this poses a threat to women’s health and lives.

  • 1. WHO (2011) Unsafe abortion, global and regional estimates on the incidence of unsafe abortion and associated mortality: (PDF)

You may also be interested in…

Find out more about our work on FGM.

Join our campaign to stop violence against women.

Find out more about how we defend the rights of women and girls.