Global Human Rights Defence

The compromising effect of covid-19 on the sexual and reproductive rights of women
Source: Fair Planet, February 13, 2020

Wednesday October 27, 2021
Noud Zuidberg – Team Europe

Women’s rights are part of a multifaceted body of basic human rights, including the right to education, prohibition of discrimination, right to life, right to health and many more. When talking about sexual and reproductive rights, both the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) clearly stated that these are included in the right to health.[1] Despite the existance of these rights, women and girls endure discrimination, violence, and oppression on a daily basis. Due to the inability of states to guarantee the utmost protection and fulfillment of these rights, a Special Rapporteur has been appointed by the UN Human Rights Council. This Special Rapporteur ensures that women are entitled to accessible – physically and economically – and good quality reproductive health care services, goods, and facilities in adequate numbers without discrimination.[2]

Despite the installment of a Special Rapporteur and the obligation states have, violations of women’s rights occur frequently.[3] The difficulty in addressing them lies in their interrelated nature operating on different levels, such as in health and clinical care, health systems and day-to-day life. They take many forms, such as the denial of access to special services for women, poor quality of healthcare, forced sexual medical exams, forced abortion, female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriage. As stated by the philosopher Amartya Sen, specialized on public well being, which has been underscored by the Special Rapporteur Tlaleng Mofokeng: “(H)ealth equity has many aspects and is best seen as a multidimensional concept. It includes concerns about achievement of health and the capability to achieve good health, not just the distribution of health care. But it also includes the fairness of processes and thus must attach importance to non-discrimination in the delivery of health care’’. [4]

Under the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, many states have adopted measures that were not always in strict conformity with human rights law. The pandemic has, in general, highlighted the impact that social inequalities and discrimination have on the health of individuals, as witnessed through the higher rates of COVID-19 pandemic-related deaths and illnesses in marginalized groups compared to other groups in society.[5] This is no different for the disruption of health services and the protection of sexual and reproductive rights of women. In the report submitted to the General Assembly by the Special Rapporteur, it is mentioned that millions of women had limited or no access to maternal and newborn health care, contraception or specialized mental health services for sexual assault or discrimination. New measures adopted in combination with lockdowns or movement restrictions in certain states have further limited access to abortion, sexual and reproductive services.[6]

By taking the example of abortion, the effects of the pandemic can be clearly illustrated. Equitable access to safe abortion services is a fundamental human right and should not be compromised. However, a study done by Caroline Moreau and her colleagues shows a significantly different situation. During the pandemic, abortions were banned in six countries, suspended in one and decreased their availablity in twelve others. For women with COVID-19 symptoms, services were delayed or were completely unavailable.[7] Even though the direct consequences of these compromises remain undocumented because they are nearly impossible to track down, it is estimated that this had led to either unwanted births of children, illegal abortions and/or the severe endangerment of the health of these women.[8]

With the availability of this data, UN experts call on states to reshape any compromises that have been made during the pandemic and to continue their focus on strengthening the vital health care services. “Governments must remove obstacles and ensure full access to quality services […]”, Dr. Mofokeng said in her comments to the General Assembly.[9] She presses that governments should not forget that reproductive health rights are rooted in binding human rights treaties, jurisprudence and documents of international conferences and, therefore, cannot and should not be neglected so easily. As states cannot be held directly and criminally accountable for such compromises, the focus should be put on recommendations for change. Among such recommendations, specifically provided in the report to the General Assembly, are the call to improve the practice of medicine as a tool to change paternalistic systems, to focus on the gradual eradication of practices that instrumentalize and politicize women’s bodies, and to increase domestic health financing.[10]

The responsibility of the development of these rights are completely in the hands of all the member states and they are, therefore, obliged to uphold the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, which includes women.


General Assembly. (July 16, 2021). Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. A/76/172. Accessed on October 27, 2021.

General Assembly. (September 13, 2006). Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. A/61/338. Accessed on October 27, 2021.

Moreau C, Shankar M, Glasier A, et al. (2021) Abortion regulation in Europe in the era of COVID-19: a spectrum of policy responses. BJM Sexual and Reproductive Health Journal. Vol. 47, No. 14. Accessed on October 27, 2021.

United Nations. (20 October, 2021). Restore sexual, reproductive health rights lost during COVID, rights expert urges. UN News, Global perspective Human stories. Accessed 27 October, 2021.

United Nations Human Rights. (2020). Sexual and reproductive health and rights. Office of the High Commissioner. Accessed on October 27, 2021.

 “Why health equity?”. (December 2002) Health Economics. (Vol. 11, No. 8), pp. 659–666.

Accessed on October 27, 2021.

[1] United Nations Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner. Sexual and reproductive health and rights. 2020.

[2] General Assembly, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, A/61/338, 13/09/2006.

[3] General Assembly, Special Rapporteur. Right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, July 16, 2021. A/76/172.

[4]  “Why health equity?”, Health Economics, vol. 11, No. 8 (December 2002), pp. 659–666.

[5] General Assembly, Right of everyone to physical and mental health, July 16, 2021. A/76/172.

[6] United Nations, Restore sexual, reproductive health rights lost during COVID, rights expert urges. UN News, 20 October 2021.

[7] C. Moreau, M. Shankar, A. Glasier et al., Abortion regulation in Europe in the era of Covid-19: a spectrum of policy responses, BJM Journals, vol. 47, Issue 4 (2021)

[8] Ibid.

[9] United Nations, Restore sexual, reproductive health rights lost during COVID, rights expert urges. UN News, 20 October 2021.

[10] General Assembly. Right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, July 16, 2021. A/76/172

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Coordinator - Tibet Team

Mandakini graduated with honours from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Her team analyses the human rights violations faced by Tibetans through a legal lens.

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Gabriela Johannen
Coordinator & Head Researcher – India

Gabriela Johannen is a lawyer admitted to the German bar and holds extensive knowledge in the fields of human rights, refugee law, and international law. After working for various courts and law firms in her home country, she decided to obtain an LL.M. degree from Utrecht University where she studied Public International Law with a special focus on Human Rights. Additionally, while working as a pro-bono legal advisor for refugees, she expanded her knowledge in the fields of refugee law and migration.

Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.


Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.