In the May discussion, Katherine Mayall of the Center for Reproductive Rights discussed how the Center works with United Nations Treaty Monitoring Bodies (TMBs) to hold governments accountable for their international human rights obligations. Although there was initial reluctance by some TMBs to recognize that reproductive rights falls within their mandate, persistent advocacy by the Center and other CSOs worldwide has resulted in a clear recognition, by most TMBs, that their respective human rights treaties provide protections for reproductive rights. The Center continues to push TMBs to adopt holistic views of reproductive rights that places women’s rights to substantive equality and reproductive autonomy at the core. It aims to highlight a range of issues before different TMBs and draw connections between the ways that these expert committees have approached reproductive rights issues, including by conducting briefings with the TMBs and drafting publications on this issue. To stay up to date on progress on the ground, the Center relies heavily on its strong relationships with local partners. Finally, the pro bono work of a dedicated group of attorneys at White & Case enables the Center to keep up to date with advances in reproductive rights norms being established by TMBs outside of the Center’s focus countries.
Working Group Members wished to learn more about some of the steps and processes the Center engages is to use TMBs effectively. The Center works to frame women’s and reproductive rights violations as ESCR and CPR violations, which allows them to demonstrate that reproductive rights violations contribute to and perpetuate violations of ESCR and CPR. For individual complaints brought to TMBs, the Center works to ensure states fully implement decisions. The Center has forged strong relationships with TMBs by constant contact, informing them of relevant issues and information regarding the actions states have (or have not taken) to comply with judgements.
The Center’s use of shadow letters was also a point of discussion for Working Group Members. The process for shadow letters varies, but local partners are critical to gathering information and highlighting issues, among other things. Topics of the letters are prioritized by a number of different criteria – from the most pressing issues, to the composition of the TMBs, to where can the Center provide the most expertise, and more. Overall, the Center works to ensure shadow letters address issues that are seen as most pressing and are created in such a way that is acceptable by their local partners. Gathering information for shadow letters, however, can be severely hampered by the stigma surrounding reproductive rights and, more specifically, abortion. The Center works to reduce this stigma by sharing emotional stories of those affected by restrictive abortion laws. Those stories serve to move the issue away from topics of policy, religion, and social norms to the topic of women’s fundamental human rights.