Universal Periodic Review

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is an HRC process through which States review one another’s actions taken to improve human rights in their countries and fulfil their obligations. No Member State is exempt from review. Action Canada submits reports for the UPR in collaboration with different stakeholders.

Action Canada statement on Canada’s Universal Periodic Review Outcome

Last May, Canada had it’s third Universal Periodic Review at the UN. The UPR is a UN human rights process where each country’s human rights record is reviewed by other UN member states.

Action Canada worked in partnership with the Sexual Rights Initiative and the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform to prepare a report highlighting human rights violations as they relate to unequal abortion access, lack of comprehensive sexuality education and the criminalization of sex work to ensure these issues would be addressed in Canada’s review.

Member states have called up on Canada to take steps to address unequal access to abortion and comprehensive sexuality education across all provinces and territories, two of the three issues our report focused on. And today, Canada announced it would be accepting both these recommendations!

Although we remain disappointed that the Government of Canada continues to ignore its promise to repeal sex work laws, we will now get to work on holding the government accountable not only the accepted recommendations but on ALL issues in the next four years.

Click below to read our full statement made at the UN’s 39th Human Rights Council.UPR Canada Statement AC and Alliance-Alliance

UN Reviews Canada’s Human Rights Record

Last week, Canada had its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations.

What is the UPR? It is a UN human rights process where each country’s human rights record is reviewed by other UN members, and it was Canada’s turn. The UPR is a powerful tool to hold governments accountable for sexual and reproductive rights violations, and to advocate for change.

Sexual and reproductive rights are human rights. Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights worked tirelessly to prepare for Canada’s review, ensuring that violations of sexual and reproductive rights were raised. We prepared a report on Canada’s track record focusing on unequal abortion access, lack of comprehensive sexuality education, and the criminalization of sex work. We spent weeks visiting embassies here in Canada to ensure that UN member states would raise our issues during Canada’s UPR Review.

Click here to read our report for Canada’s UPR Review

Because of our advocacy work, this is the first UPR review in which Canada received recommendations related to sexual and reproductive health and rights! 

Here’s what countries are asking Canada to do: 

  • Ensure equal access to abortion
  • Ensure equal access to comprehensive sexuality education across provinces and territories
  • Support programs to advance gender equality and prevent gender-based violence
  • Step up measures to address systemic discrimination against LGBTQ2SI people and communities
  • Take steps to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of forced sterilization
  • Ensure universal access to health care

Click here for the full list of UPR30 sexual rights recommendations for all countries under review. 

Canada now has until September to decide which recommendations it will accept or reject. Last week in advance of the UPR Parliamentarians across parties, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, rose in Parliament to declare that abortion is a right.

Now our work begins to ensure our government stays true to their words when September comes. We will work with government officials across the country to improve not only access to abortion but also access to a comprehensive package of sexual and reproductive health information and services, including comprehensive sexuality education.

Annual Report 2016-2017

Whether it’s been campaigning for universal cost coverage of medical abortion, launching a cutting-edge resource for teaching sexuality education in schools, securing a major investment in global SRHR from the government Canada, offering thousands of people the health information they are looking for, or supporting sexual and reproductive rights defenders around the world to hold their governments accountable, we’ve been working tirelessly to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights in Canada and globally.

Read our Annual Report to learn about the significant strides we made in 2016-2017 »

Having trouble reading the report? Click here to download in PDF

The SRI is hiring!

The Sexual Rights Initiative (SRI) is a coalition of six national and regional organizations (including Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights) from all parts of the world with an office in Geneva, Switzerland that has been advocating for the advancement of human rights in relation to gender and sexuality at the UN Human Rights Council since 2006.

The SRI aims to advance sexual rights (broadly defined) as a particular set of rights and as a crosscutting issue within international law, specifically in the work of the UN Human Rights Council. The SRI’s approach to advocacy combines feminist analysis with important normative advances in the recognition of human rights of women, marginalized communities and young people. The SRI further aims to create a political space for advocacy on sexual rights by bridging Southern, Northern and Eastern perspectives and incorporating diverse views.

The SRI is currently expanding its Geneva-based presence. We are seeking highly motivated, effective and experienced staff with a firm grounding in feminist principles and analysis to play important roles in achieving the goals of the coalition.

Action Canada Statement before Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development

Honourable Members,

I want to begin by thanking you for the invitation to present before you today.  For those of you who are not familiar with it, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights is a Canadian organization working domestically and globally to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights.  While the Committee’s study covers a number of specific topics relating to children and youth, I will focus my remarks on the issue of early and forced marriage and how Canada can strengthen its role to address this issue.

Early and forced marriage is a pervasive human rights violation whose causes are deeply rooted in gender-based inequalities, norms and stereotypes, including traditional, patriarchal perceptions of women’s status and roles in society, as well as social control of women’s bodies and sexual choices.

Early and forced marriage constitutes one example of how these root causes are manifested in societies. Other examples include female genital mutilation (FGM) and acid attacks, as well as keeping or pulling girls out of school, which of course is often a precursor to their being forced into early marriage.  Problems associated with early and forced marriage, while based in inequalities relating to gender and age, are also exacerbated by other factors of inequality such as poverty, lower education level and rural location.

After marriage in these circumstances, all of these same inequalities and forms of control continue to manifest themselves in the lives of these girls and young women as a plethora of continued human rights violations.  First of all, married girls are twice as likely to experience sexual violence and often this sexual violence is perfectly legal.  According to UN Women, 127 countries do not explicitly criminalize rape in marriage.  And in fact, 53 of these countries actually explicitly permit marital rape.

Secondly, adolescent girls and young women often lack access to sexual and reproductive health information, commodities and services, including for contraception.  While part of this lack of access is certainly the lack of availability of these services, it is also partly based in legal requirements for spousal consent to these services, potential reproductive coercion by the spouse, and indications that services are not youth-friendly or not geared at meeting specific health needs in a non-judgmental manner.  Currently, over 220 million women and adolescent girls who are married or in a union and would like access to a modern method of contraception do not have such access.

Thirdly, if an adolescent girl experiences an unwanted pregnancy, she may lack access to safe abortion services and post-abortion care.  Factors impacting on access to abortion services include its legality in the country in which she lives, the availability of this service, and spousal consent requirements.  Fourthly, if giving birth she might lack access to personnel or facilities that would ensure safe delivery.  Primarily because of a lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services, including maternal health services, maternal mortality is the second leading cause of death of adolescent girls in the developing world.

This is just a small glimpse of what the picture for adolescent girls forced into early marriage looks like.  Addressing early and forced marriage requires addressing these interlinked human rights violations rooted in gender-based and other inequalities.

Given the Committee’s focus on what Canada’s role should be, I would like to offer a few thoughts on this.  First of all, in terms of Canada’s work at the intergovernmental level, I want to begin by commending the government’s leadership role in bringing this issue to the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly for action by these two bodies.  Within the intergovernmental sphere, we are currently in a place where, like FGM, governments are not particularly defending this practice even where this practice is widespread.  In this sort of situation, the intergovernmental system can be seized upon to make tremendous advances and in turn support and spur further action to address early and forced marriage at national levels.

Canada should work to ensure resolutions are substantive and strong, aimed at identifying what States need to do to eliminate these practices and to address the human rights of those subjected to the practice.  This necessarily entails comprehensive, integrated approaches, which include education, health and justice components.  For this upcoming June Human Rights Council resolution, we would urge the government to work to ensure that the Council commission a technical guidance on using human rights-based approaches in addressing the issue.  Such a policy tool could serve to assist governments in identifying key interventions needed in order to fully implement and give effect to the relevant human rights obligations and principles.

Added to this effort, the government should also step up its engagement in policy dialogue with other countries, both bilaterally and in its participation in the Universal Periodic Review process.  The aim should be not only to advance approaches to preventing early and forced marriage but also to challenge interlinked violations of the rights to education, health and bodily autonomy: That includes working with countries to reform laws, including setting a minimum age of marriage, criminalizing marital rape, and removing legal or policy barriers to health services, including spousal consent requirements and the criminalization of abortion.

With the post-2015 agenda soon poised to be adopted, we have now agreed, as part of this framework, on a robust gender equality goal.  Addressing child marriage is a part of that goal as are numerous interlinked issues.  The implementation of this goal, along with other aspects of this ambitious post-2015 agenda will need to be financed through a mix of domestic and international resources as well as new financing mechanisms.  Now even more so than with the Millennium Development Goals, donor countries must renew their commitment to ensuring that levels of overseas development are at or above 0.7% of GNI.

As part of its efforts to address early and forced marriage comprehensively, the government further needs to prioritize investment in sexual and reproductive health, including family planning.  In addition to supporting the fulfilment of these human rights, these are also smart investments.  At the present time, expenses related to unsafe abortion complications alone cost women, girls, and their families a further US$600 million per year in out-of-pocket expenses.  Conversely, meeting the unmet need for modern contraception and achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health services by 2030 is estimated to yield impressive returns of US$120 for every dollar spent, and over US$400 billion in annual benefits.

As a final recommendation, the government must also look to invest further in women’s and youth-led organizations working towards gender equality.  Despite greater attention to gender equality, women’s organizations themselves are struggling globally.  Greater investment in those voices who are challenging the very gender norms and inequalities that are at the root of these interlinked human rights violations, including early and forced marriage, is a major need at this point.

Thanks for your attention and I look forward to your questions.


Action Canada appears before House of Commons Committee on International Development

In April 2014, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation and member of the standing committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development (FAAE) Lois Brown introduced a motion to study youth in the developing world.

On the recommendation of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) was asked to appear before the Committee last February 19, 2015. During its meeting, UNFPA Director of Information and External Relations Dianne Stewart addressed human rights violations related to child, early and forced marriages, including lack of consent, the complications from adolescent pregnancy and childbirth that lead to maternal mortality and morbidity, sexual violence, and the lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services. Stewart highlighted UNFPA’s commitment to the promotion of adolescent girls’ right to health, specifically, access to sexual and reproductive health, education and work.

UNFPA focuses on “interventions that delay marriage and pregnancy and that enhance girls’ autonomy, their access to social networks, and their participation in civil life; by reducing school dropouts; by creating an enabling environment that upholds the girls’ rights; and by ensuring that they have access to sexual and reproductive health and rights and HIV knowledge and practices; and also by increasing the demand for high-quality, rights-based family planning,” said Stewart.

Shortly after Stewart’s presentation, Action Canada Executive Director Sandeep Prasad was invited to appear before the Committee on April 21, 2015. Prasad took the opportunity to discuss child, early and forced marriage from a human rights-based perspective.

Prasad received a number of questions from Committee Members. Specifically, Hélène Laverdière asked about strategies to address the root causes of patriarchy and child, early and forced marriage, women’s ability to make autonomous decisions regarding their sexual and reproductive health, the Government of Canada’s support for family planning and sexuality education, the consequences associated with limiting access to safe abortion services, and the integration of gender equality and human rights in the Post-2015 development agenda.

Committee Member Marc Garneau also inquired into the extent to which Muskoka funds have gone toward family planning and sexuality education, and the role that intergovernmental dialogue can play in policy change, in addressing human rights violations and in shifting attitudes. Finally, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Development Lois Brown asked about the creation of policies that engage men and boys in an effort to address child, early and forced marriage.

Prasad highlighted the importance of country leadership, praise for the recommendations that Canada has put forward within the UN Universal Periodic Review process and the opportunity to support countries in implementing such recommendations, the need for greater investment in family planning, comprehensive sexuality education as an important intervention in preventing child, early and forced marriage and the role of UN agencies in convening dialogue between governments and civil society at the country-level. Prasad also discussed the Post-2015 development agenda, acknowledging the robust package that is being proposed by the Open Working Group, including the stand-alone gender equality goal, and the need to keep this package intact.

Once the committee has completed its study, it will present a report with recommendations to the House of Commons. When the report is presented in the House, a standing committee may request that the Government table a comprehensive response within 120 days.

Click here to read Sandeep Prasad’s full statement

Click here to read the transcript from the Committee meeting on April 21, and here for the meeting on February 19 2015. Click here to view the list of current FAAE Committee members.

The shifting politics in multilateral development and human rights negotiations and the absence of accountability

Abstract: The post-2015 development agenda currently being negotiated at the United Nations in New York will dictate development strategies and influence aid flows for the foreseeable future. It is vital, therefore, that what is agreed during these discussions focuses on the means by which to improve the lives and opportunities of those seeking to escape poverty and all that this entails. Yet negotiations on the new development framework have largely ignored a crucial component for addressing disparities and violations in all corners of the world: human rights.

Article written by

Sandeep Prasad, Executive Director, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Stuart Halford, Senior Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Sexual Rights Initiative, Geneva, Switzerland.

Click here to read the complete article in Reproductive Health Matters

DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0968-8080(14)44813-4
November 2014 Volume 22, Issue 44, Pages 109–113

Sexual Rights & The Universal Periodic Review: A Toolkit for Advocates

This innovative toolkit was developed as part of an ongoing collaboration between IPPF and the Sexual Rights Initiative to advance sexual rights and reproductive rights through the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.

This toolkit is designed to assist Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to bring their knowledge, expertise and experiences to an international forum which can influence the realization of human rights where it matters most, in the daily life of individuals in your country. CSOs do not need to have in-depth knowledge of the UN system or human rights law in order to participate effectively with the UPR. Knowledge and experience of national laws and policies that affect sexual rights in your country enables CSOs to participate meaningfully in the UPR because the UPR is all about the human rights situations inside the country being reviewed.

Click here to access the toolkit