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call for papers

1. using the law and the courts

volume 22   number 44   november 2014

The law plays a crucial role in both restricting and supporting sexual and reproductive health and rights, and over the years, advocates have often relied on legal strategies to further their aims. While these have led to important precedents being set in many jurisdictions, their implementation is not always fully achieved.

Using domestic courts, challenges to restrictive abortion laws have led to significant liberalization, especially since the 1960s. Regional and international human rights mechanisms have also become a focus of attention for activists seeking to develop legal standards around sexual and reproductive health. Civil and political rights and, more recently, economic and social rights (articulated with broader efforts to demonstrate their justiciability) have been applied to identify human rights violations arising, for example, from forced sterilization, denial of services, abortion bans, among others. Tackling the complex systemic issues – resource allocation, neglect and poor quality of care, access to medications and treatments, discrimination, the functioning of health systems – involved in the violation of sexual and reproductive rights has been a focus of national public interest litigation and suits brought before international and regional human rights bodies.

The explicit application of international norms to SRH issues – through jurisprudence and ‘soft law’ interpretations – can support national strategies for law reform and litigation, and vice versa. Those involved in using the law and the courts point to the symbolic power of jurisprudence, the importance of legal approaches to accountability, and the ability to bring justice and reparation to individuals and communities. However, there are also concerns about possible negative consequences. For example, in Mexico, when the legalisation of early abortion in Mexico City led to other states passing more restrictive abortion statutes, or when large numbers of individuals pursue access to expensive medications through court orders, which may skew a national health budget. This is not in any ways to suggest ruling out the value of legal strategies, but to call for caution about whether such strategies are the most appropriate means of achieving progress in complex political, economic and social contexts.

In reaction to the growing number of successes of legal strategies, it is important to recognise that anti-SRHR groups have begun to develop counter-strategies for curbing and rejecting SRHR protections through the law and the courts. Effective ways of responding are crucial and complex.

For this journal issue, we welcome submissions on using local, national, regional and international laws and courts, including quasi-judicial bodies (treaty bodies, regional human rights commissions) and others developing global standards (such as UN Special Rapporteurs).

The following are some examples of the issues we think are interesting:

  • Evaluating approaches that have used community, national, regional and international law and courts to further the protection of SRHR and larger efforts for social change.
  • Implementation and non-implementation of court decisions: justice for individuals? achieving broader reforms? reinforcing a culture of impunity?
  • Establishing state responsibilities vis-à-vis the private sector, and putting the private sector in the dock.
  • Who are the petitioners, the victims and the litigants?
  • Creating narratives regarding the law and public opinion through litigation: victims, winners and losers.
  • The pros and cons of using legal strategies where the rule of law is shaky.
  • Types of laws applied to SRHR and how these have been used to protect or restrict rights: international, constitutional, national, penal, religious, traditional and/or customary law.
  • Litigating internationally: supporting or undermining efforts to achieve change locally?
  • Experiences of fighting the opposition in the courts: implications and reflections.
  • Trusting the judiciary and what to do when they get it wrong.
  • Working “with” the law and “in spite of” the law. How legal strategies have, or have not, worked well alongside other strategies to advance SRHR.
  • Acting within or breaking the law to seek justice.
  • Effects of legal strategies on health care provision.
  • Dedicating resources to legal advocacy: at the cost of movement-building or good value for money?
  • Court cases are creating demands and expectations on governments, but even the best law reforms and legal decisions still require implementation and social justice.
  • Litigating for access to medicines: help for individuals or whole population groups? Effects on health budgets and access to treatment.
  • Role of the courts alongside the role of government ministries, parliaments, etc.
  • Differential access to the law and courts for individuals due to the costs of litigation and legal fees.

Please share this with anyone who may be interested in submitting a paper.


RHM author and submission guidelines are at:


Read them before you start writing and again before you submit!!

Submissions due 1-31 May 2014

RHM’s submission and peer review system has moved online to: http://ees.elsevier.com/rhm/. All submissions must be received through this system.


population, environment and sustainable development

volume 22   number 43   may 2014

Submissions for this journal issue are now closed.

The theme of RHM’s first journal issue, May 1993, was “Population and family planning policies: women-centred perspectives”. The papers addressed these issues in India, South Africa, Malaysia, Mexico and Japan: population change, land use and environment; population and development; abusive treatment of women seeking contraception and abortion; the “problem” of abortion; consequences of the decline of the birth rate; gender and population policies;  and the effects of population policies on women’s lives. These papers are still very relevant, yet in 20 years much has changed. Fertility is declining rapidly all over the world, for example, and globally is almost at replacement level; only 18% of countries, the very poorest, still have high fertility. In fact, in a growing number of countries, fertility has dropped so far below replacement level that the dearth of children is perceived to be a source of serious economic and social problems, creating an opening for anti-SRHR forces to encourage governments to restrict the right to contraception and abortion. Even in China there is discussion about whether to roll back the one-child policy.  Yet listening to some environmentalists, you could be forgiven for believing that population growth remains the biggest problem facing the world, and that reducing fertility is all that matters.

Globally, the combined problems of population, environment, development and sustainability are on the agenda of global agencies, governments, scientists, business, NGOs and activists in a wide range of fields. In 2005, the World Summit set out three mutually reinforcing pillars of sustainable development: economic development, sustainable development and environmental protection. Seven years later, the 2012 Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development drew huge numbers and generated fierce debate, including among SRHR advocates, and now the global discussion of what should happen to the Millennium Development Goals is in full force.

Meanwhile, in 2011, a conference called Population Footprints took place in London, where a multidisciplinary group of academics, scientists and others with expertise in public policy presented their thinking on what the world must do to keep the planet, ourselves and future generations alive and healthy. Along with what happened in Rio, it motivated the theme for this journal issue. The overarching goal put forward at that conference was the need to achieve equitable and sustainable development. The main conclusions were that too high levels of consumption are having a far greater impact on the environment than overall numbers of people, though with a myriad of other contributory problems. This was far from the assertion that reducing population growth will solve all the problems. The conference called for “a million different actions” − including on climate change, greenhouse gases, population and demographic issues, urbanisation, migration, depletion of resources, shortages of energy and water, farming practices, global food and nutrition needs, environmental disasters and degradation, high levels of waste, conservation of biodiversity, and productive and reproductive labour. The global economy is sometimes seen as an immoveable force, yet until the powers ruling global and national economies confront the reality of over-consumption and limited resources, and pursue alternative approaches that prioritise low ecological cost, they will block crucial changes and exacerbate the problems. All of these are, at least in small part, also SRHR issues and vice versa.

The aim of this journal issue is to reflect on global and national policy and perspectives on fertility, fertility control, population and demographic issues − in the context of economic and sustainable development and environmental protection − especially at country level and in a cross-disciplinary manner.

We welcome papers that discuss population, fertility, and decisions whether and when to have children that are grounded in 21st century realities and move beyond “family planning” – in order to respond intelligently and critically to what young people want and need. We seek analysis and perspectives on issues ranging from youth bulges to the consequences of too few children to the needs of ageing populations, from the reality of international migration to the role of the economy and work to achieve an environmentally sustainable future.

Some questions and examples of issues we are interested in:

  • What is “equitable and sustainable development”?
  • What economic, social and political environments are needed to effect change?
  • What happened at Rio+20 and what comes next? Analysis and reflection.
  • Perspectives on 21st century population trends and policies, taking account of both high fertility and below-replacement fertility.
  • How can a broader development and sustainability perspective support access to contraception, abortion and sterilisation services, especially where these are still legally restricted?
  • Social and economic issues of gender and inequity, marginalisation and vulnerability in access to resources and jobs, education and health care, and human rights.
  • How should the SRHR movement – nationally, internationally – deal with population, environment and sustainability issues in a 21st century manner, and how should population, environment and sustainability experts take SRHR on board?


RHM author and submission guidelines are at:


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