What Do International Agreements Do?

The 55th annual United Nations Commission on the Status of Women ran all last week and through the end of this week  in New York. At IWHC, we participate in a variety of UN meetings throughout the year. This week, our staff is spending two days in an Advocacy in Practice training to learn more about what happens at the UN, and how international agreements negotiated there impact work toward realizing women’s health and rights.

International Agreements serve as commitments between countries that help enact policies and programs in countries and that are carried out in good faith. The importance of these agreements lies in their potential as powerful tools for local sexual and reproductive rights and health advocates, since many agreements address women’s rights as human rights.

International agreements have three main functions. These are:

They are spotlights

International agreements about sexual and reproductive rights and health (SRRH) put women’s right to a just and healthy life in the global spotlight. Examples of these include the Cairo Program of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (adopted by the United Nations in 1994), which for the first time, put the health and rights of women central to global population policies.

They are watchdogs

When a government signs onto an agreement, they are making a promise to enact policies and programs specified in the agreement. The governments involved in the agreement pay attention to which countries comply with the agreement and which ones do not. The credibility and reputation of those countries that do not follow through is questioned and often lowered. This system, arguably more so than isolated national laws, puts pressure on each involved country to follow through. 

They are advocacy tools

As an SRRH advocate, the language agreed to in international agreements is invaluable—but only if it’s put to use. Follow-through by advocates on the ground is vital to making the potential behind any agreement a reality. Knowing which agreements your government has signed onto and holding them accountable for implementing them locally is important. Repeating the language from the agreement when promoting the rights and health of women and girls in your country will remind officials that they already agreed to take these actions—and that they are accountable not only to their citizens, but the global community.



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