Sexual and reproductive health and rights – a short global history

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


“Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR)” is a common term in many international documents, meetings and scientific publications, however, there is a big diversity regarding the attitude towards and understanding of sexual health. In developing new public health programmes and action plans to reach them, it is important to learn from the past. Sexuality and reproduction are as old as mankind and since ancient civilizations there have been different ways and diverse groups of people helping women and men to improve sexual performance and reproduction and get rid of problems. Human rights linkage with health is dated to late 40-ies of the previous century when the WHO constitution (1946) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (1948) were agreed upon by the Member States. The UDHR positioned health under the right to an adequate standard of living: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family…”. Many public activists united their efforts in improving access to information and contraception and in 1952 the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) was formed. Since then IPPF has changed the focus of their activities from family planning to SRHR. In 1974 in a WHO meeting “Education and Treatment in Human Sexuality: the training of health professionals” sexual health definition was discussed and is included in the meeting report. However, the landmark was the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, at which “reproductive health” was defined for the first time in an international consensus document and was used instead of the “population control”. According to the ICPD definition of reproductive health it “…also includes sexual health, the purpose of which is the enhancement of life and personal relations, and not merely counselling and care related to reproduction and sexually transmitted diseases” (ICPD Cairo, Programme of Action 1994; paragraph 7.2). In 2002 an international meeting organized by WHO produced a working definition of sexuality, sexual health and sexual rights. Since 2006 when the report of the meeting was published, the working definition of sexual health has been widely used as the international consensus on this term is still missing. During the last decade a number of political documents including words “sexual health” have been approved such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2015), Action Plan for Sexual and Reproductive Health for WHO European Region (2016), etc. Technical documents are developed by WHO and other organizations such as “Sexual health and its linkages to reproductive health: an operational approach” (2017), “Sexual health, human rights and the law” (2015) etc. They are excellent tools in assisting people and organizations involved in improvement of SRHR during these challenging times.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - May 2022
Event16th ESC (European Society of Contraception and Reproductive Health) Congress: Challenging times, are we ready? Novel approaches to sexual and reproductive health - an in-person conference and sessions in live streaming, Ghent, Belgium
Duration: 25 May 202228 May 2022
Conference number: 16


Congress16th ESC (European Society of Contraception and Reproductive Health) Congress
Abbreviated titleESCRH2022
Internet address


  • sexual and reproductive health

Field of Science*

  • 3.3 Health sciences

Publication Type*

  • 3.4. Other publications in conference proceedings (including local)


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