Gender, equity and human rights

Human rights

Picture: Protect from Ebola
WHO/Andrew Esiebo

Health and human rights— “The right to the highest attainable standard of health” requires a set of social criteria that is conducive to the health of all people, including the availability of health services, safe working conditions, adequate housing and nutritious foods. Realization of the right to health is closely related to that of other human rights, including the right to food, housing, work, education and non-discrimination; equality; access to information; and participation.

The right to health comprises both freedoms and entitlements. Freedoms include the right to control one’s health and body (e.g. sexual and reproductive rights) and to be free from interference (e.g. free from torture and from non-consensual medical treatment and experimentation). Entitlements include the right to a system of health protection that gives everyone an equal opportunity to enjoy the highest attainable level of health.

Health policies and programmes have the ability to either promote or violate human rights, including the right to health, depending on the way they are designed or implemented. Taking steps to respect and protect human rights upholds the health sector’s responsibility to address everyone’s health.

Human rights-based approaches to health

A human rights-based approach (HRBA) to health focuses attention and provides strategies and solutions to redress inequalities, discriminatory practices (both real and perceived) and unjust power relations, which are often at the heart of inequitable health outcomes. It defines health as a “right” rather than an entitlement or “need”. Human rights are strongly linked to the concept of social determinants.

The goal of the HRBA to health is that all health policies, strategies and programmes be designed with the objective of progressively improving the enjoyment of all people to the right to health and other health-related human rights, (safe and potable water, sanitation, food, housing, health-related information and education, and gender). It does this by adhering to and monitoring adherence to rigorous principles and standards to the ways in which this goal is pursued, with immediate effect. These standards and principles include: availability, accessibility, acceptability quality.

List of United Nations human rights mechanisms

Charter-based bodies

Treaty-based bodies

There are ten human rights treaty bodies that monitor implementation of the core international human rights treaties: