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What are sexual rights?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has a working definition of sexual rights, listing the human rights ‘critical to the realisation of sexual rights’ and claiming ‘the application of existing human rights to sexuality and sexual health constitutes sexual rights’ (World Health Organization n.d.).

The World Association for Sexual Health (WAS) also claims that sexual rights are grounded in already-recognised universal human rights. These claims find support in fundamental human rights documents. For example, Article 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations General Assembly 1948), the right to respect for private and family life, covers the ‘physical and moral integrity of a person, including his or her sexual life’ (X and Y v the Netherlands 1985).

Plainly there are other rights that would also capture aspects of sexual well-being, including the right to live free from violence and coercion and the right to equality and non-discrimination. The 2014 WAS Declaration of Sexual Rights recognises that ‘sexual rights are essential for the achievement of the highest attainable sexual health’ and articulates how sexual rights relate to existing human rights, including the among others. 

For example, the Declaration asserts that with respect to the right to autonomy and bodily integrity: ‘Everyone has the right to control and decide freely on matters related to their sexuality and their body. This includes the choice of sexual behaviours, practices, partners and relationships with due regard to the rights of others.’ (World Association for Sexual Health 2014).

As a human rights jurisdiction, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has a proud tradition of courageously committing to evidence-based action in the name of protecting vulnerable Canberrans and upholding the rights of all.  Furthermore, Comprehensive Relationships and Sexuality Education reduces sexual violence and harassment, consistent with the ACT Government priorities of future-proofing health care and of making Canberra more inclusive. 

The Relationships and Sexuality Education Alliance believe that Relationships and Sexuality Education is the most powerful strategy to teach sexual rights. All children and young people have the right to feel safe, and to feel capable to express their boundaries.  They are also entitled to expect that their boundaries will be respected. These are not skills and capabilities that come naturally, rather they must be taught.  

Teaching all children and young people these skills and equipping them with the information and knowledge they need to use them, contributes to a society that values respect and communication in interpersonal relationships.

Comprehensive Relationships and Sexuality Education empowers young people to understand their bodies, pursue emotional and sexual wellbeing as they get older, and engage in respectful and healthy relationships.

Katrina Marson (2021). Consent a low bar: the case for a human rights approach to relationships and sexuality education, Australian Journal of Human Rights, DOI: 10.1080/1323238X.2021.1956739

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