The Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) is preparing a General Comment (GC) on the right to sexual and reproductive health, which is expected to be finished in May 2011.The general right to the highest attainable standard of health (Article 12) has already been tackled by the CESCR in the General Comment 14
The right to sexual and reproductive health (RSRH) is understood as a component of the right to health under article 12 and the right of family to protection and assistance under article 10 (2) of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights:
1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
2. The steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for:
(a) The provision for the reduction of the stillbirth-rate and of infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child;
(b) The improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene;
(c) The prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases;
(d) The creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.
The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize that:
2. Special protection should be accorded to mothers during a reasonable period before and after childbirth. During such period working mothers should be accorded paid leave or leave with adequate social security benefits.
As part of the preparatory work leading to the formulation of a general comment by CESCR on the right to sexual and reproductive health and, the Committee called for a Discussion Day in November 2010. It provided an opportunity to exchange views and insights from practitioners and experts on the RSRH with a view to foster a deeper understanding of the content and implications of articles 12 and 10 (2) of the Covenant. In this occasion, the CESCR has called for written subscription on the theme of the general comment.
This GC will assist stakeholders (governments, courts, academia, etc.) to better understand the right to sexual and reproductive health. National courts may refer to the general comment in order to clarify legislative provisions. In some cases, national courts have based judgments on treaty jurisprudence, including GCs. In addition, they may encourage States parties, UN agencies and NGOs to work on this specific issue addressed in this GC.
Why should breastfeeding advocates make a contribution?
The General Comment on the right to Sexual and Reproductive Right is a valuable opportunity for breastfeeding advocates to strengthen their work on breastfeeding from a human rights approach; it is a valuable opportunity to highlight the link between mother and child health, which should be reflected also at a human rights level.
If the General Comment will include breastfeeding, this will be beneficial to the work of breastfeeding advocate groups’ work at the country level. The work with breastfeeding can be framed under a perspective of this right, and can help identify breastfeeding advocates as human rights defenders (not only for the rights of the child but also the rights of the women). It may help in strengthening national advocacy and can be used as a framework for accountability. They can also be used by stakeholders to push for changes in legislation.
Breastfeeding is an important linking element between the two articles mentioned above (Art. 12 and 10) because it links not only mother and child health, but it is also a fundamental element for introducing the discussion on maternity protection (covered in Art 10).