Reproductive Health and Human Rights: Lessons from Ireland


Tanya Bakhru



San Diego State University

Dr Tanya Bakhru holds a Ph.D. in Women’s Studies from University College Dublin, Ireland (2007). She is currently a Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies in the Department of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Science at San Jose State University, California.


Human rights discourse is an important strategy to use when advocating for sexual and reproductive rights.

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Key Findings

    How to apply research

    • Use as example or evidence to substantiate an advocacy strategy.
    • Anyone working within the EU could use the cases presented in the research as precedent with the European Court of Human Rights.
    • Feminist advocates could use the research to organize against the implementation of austerity measures.

    What findings means

    In this paper I look to Ireland with a feminist curiosity and ask: what lessons can women’s health movement(s) in varying geographic and social contexts learn from the Irish case in the use of human rights discourse to promote positive change in sexual and reproductive health matters?

    I discuss two major findings that emerged from my examination of IFPA documents. They are: a) the ways in which the IFPA framed the current state of sexual and reproductive health for women in Ireland in relation to international human rights conventions and treatises to which Ireland is a signatory as a response to the ambiguous and discriminatory nature of Irish law and practice regarding sexual and reproductive health; and b) the ways in which the IFPA called on the Irish state to take responsibility for the provision of health care services and protection of women’s bodily integrity in light of the intense burden which economically disadvantaged women in Ireland suffered as a part of the implementation of post-2008 recession austerity measures.

    In my reading of IFPA documents, the organization challenged the State to be accountable for women’s rights in Ireland, rather than allowing a situation to continue where those who can afford and have access to travel can acquire services. When speaking of human rights in these modes, the Irish Family Planning Association exemplifies a strategy of using human rights discourse and frameworks in a way that connects a variety of sexual and reproductive health topics, spanning beyond a single issue or a singular group of people, to such crucial notions as reproductive freedom and autonomy. Framing sexual and reproductive health in this way can be an effective tool in highlighting the fundamental need for women to have the power and resources necessary to make and carry out informed decisions about their reproductive and sexual lives (Correa & Petchesky, 1994) in a variety of global contexts.

    Findings in practice

    The research examined the Irish Family Planning Association (IRFP). While most governmental advisors at the time were calling for reductions in social services, the IFPA spoke out for the necessity of increased government support for women’s health. Specifically, they shed light on the restrictive and discriminatory treatment of women and their sexual and reproductive rights by pointing to the discrepancies in Irish law, service provision and international human rights covenants to which Ireland was a signatory


    Using the IFPA as a case study, my work employs a content analysis of over 400 pages of documents including IFPA generated annual reports, submissions, and publications between 2008-2013 (inclusive) to investigate how, in this particular “moment,” advocacy based on notions of human rights can advance women’s sexual and reproductive health.

    Limited sample, case study approach


    Sexual and Reproductive RightsHaving the power and resources necessary to make and carry out informed decisions about their reproductive and sexual lives (Correa & Petchesky, 1994) in a variety of global contexts. Informed by human rights discourses.

    Share these insights

    Want to read the full paper? It is available open access

    Bakhru, T. (2017). “Reproductive Health and Human Rights: Lessons from Ireland.” Journal of International Women’s Studies. Vol. 18. Issue 2.