Frontline workers for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) provide life-changing and life-saving services to millions of people every year. From accompanying the pregnant, delivering babies and caring for the newborn to supporting those subjected to sexual violence; from treating debilitating infections to expanding contraceptive choices; from enabling access to safe abortion services to countering homophobia: all over the world frontline SRHR carers and advocates make it possible for so many more to experience dignity in sex, sexuality and reproduction.
Yet they are also subjected to hostility for what they do, for whom they provide care, for where they work and for the issues they address. From ostracistion and harassment in the workplace to verbal threats and physical violence, hostilities can extend even into their private lives. In other words, as SRHR workers seek to fulfil the human rights of others, their own human rights are put at risk. Yet, as grave as that is, it is a reality largely undocumented and thus also underestimated.
This scoping review sets out to marshal what is known about how hostilities against frontline SRHR workers manifest, against whom, at whose hands and in which contexts. It is based on review of six sources: peer-reviewed and grey literature, news reports, sector surveys, and consultations with sector experts and, for contrast, literature issued by opposition groups.
Each source contributes a partial picture only, yet taken together, they show that hostilities against frontline SRHR workers are committed the world over—in a range of countries, contexts and settings. Nevertheless, the narratives given in those sources more often treat hostilities as ‘one-off’, exceptional events and/or as an ‘inevitable’ part of daily work to be tolerated. That works in turn both to divorce such incidents from their wider historical, political and social contexts and to normalise the phenomena as if it is an expected part of a role and not a problem to be urgently addressed.
Our findings confirm that the SRHR sector at large needs to step-up its response to such reprisals in ways more commensurate with their scale and gravity.
Authors: Victoria Boydell, Kate Gilmore, Jameen Kaur, Jessica Morris, Rebecca Wilkins, Frieda Lurken, Sarah Shaw, Kate Austen, Molly Karp, Sally Pairman, Maria Antonieta Alcalde