Rhiannon DiClemente, Resident Blogger (’16, Temple University Beasley School of Law)
Sexuality, a source of pleasure and well-being, is, for many, a central aspect of being human. Over the past twenty years, tremendous strides have been made in the engagement of human rights with sexuality. Despite this progress, global actors—notably the United States—have not accepted a clear definition of sexual rights. As the international community begins to outline the post-2015 sustainable development goals, sexual rights must be enshrined in this new agenda.
Sexual rights embrace human rights that are already recognized in national laws, international human rights documents and consensus statements. The most commonly cited definition of sexual rights was created by the World Health Organization:
[Sexual rights] include the right of all persons, free of coercion, discrimination and violence, to: (1) the highest attainable standard of sexual health, including access to sexual and reproductive health care services; (2) seek, receive and impart information related to sexuality; (3) sexuality education; (4) respect for bodily integrity; (5) choose their partner; (6) decide to be sexually active or not; (7) consensual sexual relations; (8) consensual marriage; (9) decide whether or not, and when, to have children; and (10) pursue a satisfying, safe and pleasurable sexual life.
Sexual rights are a unifying force for important reproductive justice issues and a core element of sustainable development. Claims to sexual rights have emerged from distinct and often disjointed conversations on sexual violence against women, sexual and reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, and LGBT advocacy. Around the globe, new initiatives advancing sexual rights demonstrate the centrifugal forces at work. The Yogyakarta Principles outline rights related to sexual orientation and gender identity; the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights Campaign adopts a feminist analysis of patriarchy; and the International Planned Parenthood Federation declaration adopts a sexual health focus. Acceptance and advancement of sexual rights is essential to combat extreme movements—justified through religion, culture, and nationalism—that seek to impose a narrow view of sexuality and reproduction through laws, policy, and global development work.
Despite the fact that the U.S. government has endeavored to support women raped in conflict and to promote the rights of LGBT persons globally, it has failed to acknowledge that sexual rights exist—let alone advance them. The failure of the U.S. government to accept a definition of sexual rights and promote those rights within foreign policy initiatives undermines its own goals. This is a critical moment for the United States to live up to its promises and protect sexual rights for all. Just as the U.S. took the lead in crafting the definition of reproductive rights agreed to in 1994 at the International Conference on Population and Development, the U.S. must demonstrate leadership on advancing agreements on sexual rights. This is a call to action—U.S. government: ensure that everyone, everywhere, can exercise their freedom to live in dignity—recognize sexual rights!