Skip to main content

We are at a pivotal moment in the ongoing struggle for gender equality, health equity, and sexual reproductive health rights (SRHR) worldwide. With over 50 elections taking place globally (at the time of this publication), and the midway point for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals now past, there’s a strong sense of urgency to address the setbacks.

While there have been significant gains in the fight for SRHR over the last 30 years, there’s also been significant regression. Between Roe vs. Wade being overturned in the US in 2022, the reduced commitments in the Political Declaration of the High-level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage 2023, and the absence of SRHR on the agenda for the 2024 77th Session of the World Health Assembly, we are at a critical juncture in our collective pursuit of women’s rights and health for all.

The repercussions from the overturning of Roe v Wade in 2022 have cast a shadow on SRHR globally and have a direct impact on the health equity of women and gender-diverse individuals. This landmark decision has ignited a renewed sense of urgency among actors in the global health community to safeguard these rights.

Last year, we witnessed a continued reduction in SRHR commitments within the new Political Declaration on Universal Health Coverage (UHC), especially when compared to the 2019 version. A glimpse into what may coming as Hungary takes on the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in July 2024, and as Saudi Arabia is handed the Chair for the Year Commission on the Status of Women 2024-2025 (a country that has systematically persecuted women’s rights over the years), is bleak.  But, as we navigate the intricate geopolitical challenges, it is crucial to continue amplifying the voices of those leading initiatives that elevate health equity through the lens of gender equality and SRHR.

Gender equality and health equity are interconnected facets of a just and inclusive society. As the world grapples with the complex interplay of health and human rights, this regression poses a threat not only to the health and autonomy of women but also to the broader narrative of inclusivity and equality in access to healthcare. Achieving one cannot be separated from the other.

The nexus between gender equality, SRHR, and access to healthcare is undeniable. Restricting reproductive rights not only jeopardizes women’s health but also limits their access to essential healthcare services. Barriers to family planning, maternal care, and comprehensive sexuality health education across the life course perpetuate health disparities and hinder progress toward UHC. This undermines global human rights treaties, such as the Convention on All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979) [1]. Not to mention how it can restrict women or gender-diverse individual’s ability to participate in education or the workforce, because of discrimination or their basic needs not being met or understood.

The significance of gender equality and SRHR extends beyond advocacy and policymaking; it directly impacts the work of industry and other global health stakeholders. The Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (2024) highlights that improving SRHR is among the most cost-effective of all development investments, driving personal, social, and economic benefits. The UN Global Compact (2023) suggests that women and men participating equally in the economy could add a further US$28 trillion to the global annual gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025. This starts with ensuring that women have the policies and tools that they need to fully participate.

Moving the needle on health equity requires a whole system approach

Before COVID-19, policymakers and the government resisted involving pharmaceutical industries in the development of health policies because of negative public perception. In 2024, public opinion around the inclusion of the pharmaceutical industry has changed, opening new opportunities to collaborate and work together in building a resilient health system. suggests that pharmaceutical organizations play a pivotal role in developing and ensuring access to innovation and medicines. This includes contraceptives, maternal health medications, and other essential SRHR-related pharmaceuticals, as well as advancing research, and innovation on women’s health issues. By prioritizing and investing in gender-responsive research and development, pharmaceutical organizations can contribute to breaking down barriers to healthcare access for women. Moreover, recognizing the importance of gender equality and SRHR aligns with a commitment to ethical business practices and social responsibility, fostering a more holistic view of corporate social responsibility, inclusive health systems, and equitable global health landscapes.

There is hope!

The 68th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68) took place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City in March. This annual event, hosted by the United Nations, is a crucial platform for the private sector, advocates, and policymakers to drive conversations that intersect with gender equality, SRHR, climate, health systems financing, and health equity. Rabin Martin was privileged to attend CSW68, driven by the conviction that sustained advocacy is essential to amplify the voices of those fighting for gender equality and SRHR.

In April, we will celebrate 30 years since the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in Cairo. The ICPD transformed global thinking on population and development issues and defined a bold agenda, placing people’s dignity and rights at the heart of sustainable development. In 2024, UN Member States and civil society will affirm that inclusive sustainable development is not possible without prioritizing reproductive rights; empowering women and girls; and addressing inequalities as well as the needs of all. In the lead-up to the Summit for the Future (2024), and the next five years, they will celebrate:

“Achievements and a growing understanding of the importance and significance of human-centered sustainable development, setting the stage for a recommitment to the ICPD agenda and positioning for the post-2030 population and development agenda.”

Next year, we will mark three decades since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995) – a milestone that prompts reflection on the progress made and the challenges that persist. The Beijing Platform for Action states that:

“The human rights of women include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”

With this statement in mind, it is time to recommit to the principles outlined in the Cairo Programme of Action, the Beijing Platform for Action, and the upcoming, Pact for the Summit of the Future. It is critical that we reflect on our success in driving gender equality and SRHR initiatives that promote access to healthcare, supports global health workforces that are approximately 70% women, offers stronger maternal health services, finance health systems and infrastructure that include women in the co-design process, research and development, meaningfully engage women across the life course, and make innovative advancements that address women’s health challenges.

In this pivotal year, let us reignite our commitment to the vision of a world where every individual, regardless of gender, enjoys the full spectrum of human rights and health. The responsibility falls not only on governments, advocacy groups, and healthcare providers but on all global health stakeholders to prioritize and champion SRHR as an integral part of the broader mission. It is also part of the mission to improve an individual’s ability to access healthcare, free of limitations or stigma. In doing so, we pave the way for a future where health systems are free from inequities, and global targets can be achieved.


  • CEDAW (article 16) guarantees women equal rights in deciding “freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights.”
  • CEDAW (article 10) also specifies that women’s right to education includes “access to specific educational information to help to ensure the health and well-being of families, including information and advice on family planning.”
  • The CEDAW Committee’s General Recommendation 24 recommends that States prioritize the “prevention of unwanted pregnancy through family planning and sex education.


Dr. Jennifer Martin
Associate Partner

Dr. Jennifer Martin an Associate Partner at Rabin Martin and an award-winning global health professional with over 15 years of experience designing and implementing impactful strategies and programs to address the drivers of health inequities across Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. ​She has led projects across 50 countries in partnership with WHO, UNICEF, GAVI, UN Women, the Gates Foundation, FIND, FIP, ICN, and multiple civil society and governments worldwide. She has delivered discussions on LGBTQIA+, gender equality, socio-economic status, ageism, disability-inclusiveness and sexual and reproductive health rights at the UN General Assembly, the Commission on the Status of Women, and the World Health Assembly, and led research on improving access to care for racial and ethnic minority groups across Europe. She is also the founder of two intersectional feminist movements – Pandemic Periods, and Women in Global Health Finland – and leads global advocacy coordination and policy dialogues across 40 countries. ​