This page offers topic-specific guidance on the use of the Human Rights and Reproductive Health Matrix, created by United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-supported POLICY Project Human Rights Working Group. To view other aspects of the Matrix, including guidance on other topics, please click on the Matix icon above.



Poverty is defined as a human condition characterized by sustained or chronic deprivation of the resources, capabilities, choices, security and power necessary for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living and other civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. UN Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights.

Links to Reproductive Health

Poverty and reproductive health are closely related. Poor women generally have poorer health status and have less access to health services. Poor reproductive health worsens existing poverty. Efforts to tackle poverty will improve reproductive health, and efforts to improve reproductive health will contribute to poverty reduction. Reproductive rights are, therefore, essential to improvement in quality of life and achievement of sustainable development.

Human Rights Implicated

Right to health: This right includes: the right to equal access to adequate health care and related services, regardless of sex, race, marital or other status; the right to education and access to information relating to health, including reproductive health and family planning to enable couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly all matters of reproduction and sexuality; and the right to a safe and healthy workplace, including adequate protection for pregnant women in work proven to be harmful to them.

Due to poverty women are less likely to access information about family planning and risks of unprotected sex. They also have less access to quality antenatal and delivery care because they cannot afford to pay for the services.

Right to an adequate standard of living: This right includes: the right to equitable distribution of food; right to access to safe drinking water and sanitation; right to adequate housing; and the right to a safe and healthy environment.

Poverty may results into violation of girls' and women's reproductive rights. It forces many girls into early marriages and the risks associated with early childbearing. Also when the right to an adequate standard of living is not fulfilled, women live in poor living conditions and without proper nutrition, something that can result in a miscarriage.

Poverty and other human rights: Poverty can be caused by violations of other human rights. Unless these rights are protected, women will most likely continue to be poor and therefore continue to suffer from poor reproductive health. These rights include:

  • Right to freedom from discrimination based on sex, in all aspects of life and work.
  • Right to equal access to education and training.
  • Right to equal access to productive resources, including land and credit.
  • Right to work and receive wages that contribute to an adequate standard of living.
  • Rights to equal pay for equal work, and to equality of opportunity in hiring and promotion, job security during and after pregnancy, flexible working conditions, and access to childcare.
  • Rights to sustainable development and to full and equal participation in shaping decisions of importance to women, their families and communities, including decisions relating to poverty eradication and development.

Relevant Human Rights Documents

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the inherent dignity of all individuals. The UN Commission on Human Rights Resolution 2000/12 reaffirmed that: "extreme poverty and exclusion from society constitute a violation of human dignity and that urgent national and international action is therefore required to eliminate them."

According to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, Articles 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14, "States Parties shall ... ensure to women equal rights with men in ... education... the right to work.... access to health care.... bank loans ... credit.... States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas in order to ensure ... that they participate in and benefit from rural development and ... shall ensure to such women the right ... to have access to adequate health care facilities... to benefit ... from social security programmes; ... to enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly in relation to housing, sanitation, electricity and water supply, transport and communications."

Non Binding - U.N Millennium Development Goals Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger - Between 1990 and 2015, countries should strive to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger and reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day.

Beijing Platform for Action calls for review, adopt and maintaining macroeconomic policies and development strategies that address the needs and efforts of women in poverty; revise laws and administrative practices to ensure women's equal rights and access to economic resources; and provide women with access to savings and credit mechanisms. (Strategic Objectives A.1, A.2, A3)

In June 1993, representatives from 171 States adopted the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action at the World Conference on Human Rights. They concluded that, "the existence of widespread extreme poverty inhibits the full and effective enjoyment of human rights. Its immediate alleviation and eventual elimination must remain a high priority for the international community". (United Nations A/CONF.157/23)

Key Human Rights Arguments You Could Use

Removal of barriers: Advocates can urge governments to among other things,

  • Eliminate geographical barriers by providing affordable, convenient public transport, and effective distribution of reproductive health services so that people who cannot afford the costs involved in seeking care are enabled to do so.
  • Remove financial barriers such as cost of services, cost of ill health for the household, and cost of travel to reach services.

Provide outreach services: Government and civil society need to take services directly to poor people since this is an effective intervention to mitigate the need to travel long distance to obtain services, which results in considerable lost of work time. Services that have used mobile clinics and community health workers to provide antenatal, family planning, and child health services have been successful in reaching the poor. (The World Bank, Inequalities in Health, Nutrition and Population in Bolivia, 2003)

Ensure availability and accessibility of food in a quantity and quality sufficient to satisfy the dietary needs of individuals: Advocates can urge governments and the donor community to ensure food security and nutrition to all pregnant and lactating women. This can be realized by providing women with access to economic (including provision of micro-credit) and educational opportunities and formulating and implementing, when necessary, specific economic, social, agricultural, and related policies in support of female-headed households. Also advocates can urge governments to incorporate a gender perspective and identify women as a specific target in poverty eradication plans and programs.

Questions and comments should be directed to