Millennium Development Goals and Human Rights: Past, Present and Future Cambridge University Press  |  June 9, 2011

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The story of the relationship between the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the sexual and reproductive rights movement is a parable of politics, betrayals, regroupings, and, most fundamentally, the perpetual challenges to meaningfully empowering women through development initiatives. The only goal relating to sexual and reproductive health in the MDGs is MDG 5, which relates to improvement in maternal health. Originally, MDG 5 called only for a 75 per cent reduction in maternal mortality ratios from 1990 levels, but subsequently another target of universal access to reproductive health was added (Dennis and Mutunga, 2010). At the ten-year mark, MDG 5 had been one of the most neglected of all MDGs and had shown some of the most uneven progress (UN General Assembly, 2010). As it became increasingly clear that meaningful and equitable progress on MDG 5 would require more than adding funding to existing technocratic approaches, there was growing attention to rights-based approaches to maternal health not only from non-governmental organisations but also from UN bodies (UN Human Rights Council, 2009; 2010a; 2011b; 2011). The UN Secretary-General even launched a Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, which noted the lack of accountability as a barrier to progress on MDG 5 (and MDG 4 relating to child health), and called for an “accountability process” to be chaired by the World Health Organisation (UN Secretary-General, 2010). In turn, the WHO-led Information and Accountability Commission on Women’s and Children’s Health, in its final report of May 2011, explicitly recognised the centrality of human rights to achieving greater progress (WHO, 2011).

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