Concept of ‘family values’ undermines women’s rights – UN

Reproductive rights of women must be protected, UN health expert tells Dublin congress

The World Conference on Women's Health at the RDS was told women’s and children’s rights were more vulnerable in patriarchal societies

The World Conference on Women's Health at the RDS was told women’s and children’s rights were more vulnerable in patriarchal societies


The concept of “family values” can undermine the rights of women and children, a United Nations health expert has warned

Dainius Puras, UN special rapporteur on the right to health, was addressing the World Congress on Women’s Mental Health in Dublin.

Describing the right to mental health as an “emerging priority” he said if any right was violated “you cannot exercise in a good way, other rights”.

He said women’s and children’s rights were more vulnerable in patriarchal societies, particularly those where women had less power over crucial issues in their lives. Women in these societies were more likely to be expected to conform to gender stereotypes.

Depression was often treated as a “chemical imbalance”, he said, but an interesting question was whether it could also be due to a “power imbalance”. Key to mental well-being he said, was autonomy, including control over one’s own body.

In societies where their sexual reproductive choices – including access to abortion services – were curtailed, women had less power than men, financially and politically.

Abusive relationships

“The sexual and reproductive rights of women need to be protected . . . The concept of ‘family values’ is not an innocent concept. It undermines the rights of women and children,” he said, adding it could lead to women staying in violent and abusive relationships.

“We still have a lot to do to remove the barriers to everyone enjoying his or her right to physical, sexual and reproductive health.”

The congress, held on International Women’s Day on Wednesday, was hosted by the International Association for Women’s Mental Health (IAWMH) in conjunction with the National Women’s Council of Ireland and Trinity College, Dublin. It was attended by about 200 people.

Among other speakers were professor of psychiatry at Trinity College, Veronica O’Keane, Ailbhe Smith of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment and author Marian Keyes. Ms Keyes read an extract from a forthcoming book, The Break, which features a story about a mother seeking an abortion for her teenage daughter and their journey to London.

Prof O’Keane said in societies where there was no access to abortion there was infanticide, and Ireland had a documented history of this.

Crisis pregnancy

The term “crisis pregnancy” was frequently incorrect, she said. Many were simply “unwanted” pregnancies, but there was a continuing culture of shame around this for women.

The congress closed with the announcement of a “Dublin Declaration” from the IAWMH, which states a determination to “advance women’s mental health and well-being across the globe”. Under nine headings the declaration focuses on full reproductive rights as key to women’s and girls’ mental well-being.

It says the State’s failure to provide abortion services created “intense psychological and emotional distress for women forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy”.

“The congress hereby calls on all governments to guarantee that abortion services are available and accessible in a manner that ensures women’s autonomy and decision making is respected, in line with the best international health practice and in fulfilment of women’s rights.”