The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will define the global development agenda for the next 15 years, will be formally adopted at a United Nations summit on September 25–27. The SDGs will, to a significant degree, drive the allocation of global resources and determine policy priorities between now and 2030 on a range of important issues—including sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

To help ensure that the SDG process yields the best possible outcome for SRHR over the next 15 years, the Guttmacher Institute, working closely with numerous other experts in the field, is pursuing a two-pronged strategy:

  1. Define a set of proposed indicators and related technical recommendations for how the SDGs should measure progress toward better SRHR.
  2. Through the efforts of a joint Guttmacher-Lancet Commission, develop a wide-ranging and evidence-based agenda for key SRHR priorities worldwide, going beyond what the SDGs are likely to specifically address.

SRHR in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals

The SDGs will consist of 17 goals and 169 targets to eradicate poverty, promote human dignity and rights, and protect the environment. Whether the SDGs amount to more than a political declaration will be determined by whether countries adopt, adapt to and commit to these global goals. How progress is measured is key to guiding implementation and to verifying success. To that end, the UN Statistical Commission will formally approve a global monitoring framework, including a set of indicators, for the SDGs in March 2016.

“To help inform this process, we led a consultative effort to devise a list of indicator recommendations relating specifically to SRHR, taking into account key policy imperatives,” says Ann Starrs, Guttmacher president and CEO. “In consultation with a wide range of stakeholders and technical experts, we assessed whether each indicator reflects core SRHR principles and outcomes, whether it is identified as a high priority by advocates, and whether reliable data are available or could become available for most countries. We believe the resulting document will be very useful and relevant for informing the final SDG indicators.”

The indicators that emerged from this process are explained and defined in an overview table and summary document. They fall under three different SDG goals, those on health (Goal 3), education (Goal 4) and gender equality (Goal 5). Notably, the recommended indicators demonstrate the strong links between SRHR and other proposed development goals, driving home that SRHR are critical to reducing poverty, achieving better health and ensuring equal rights for women and girls.

The Guttmacher-Lancet Commission

The SDGs are comprehensive, visionary and inspiring in many ways. But they are limited in the scope of SRHR issues they address, in part out of necessary brevity, given the many issues covered by the SDGs, but also because of ideological and religious opposition to a broad-based SRHR agenda. As a result, the SDG indicators are not likely to include certain critically important elements of SRHR, including safe abortion care, nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and the need for high-quality, confidential and timely sexual and reproductive health services.

To address these potential gaps, the Guttmacher Institute and The Lancet are establishing a commission on sexual and reproductive health and rights in the post-2015 world. The Guttmacher-Lancet Commission will begin work in early 2016 with the aim of developing a wide-ranging and evidence-based agenda for key SRHR priorities worldwide over the next 15 years. The Commission will also make the case for adopting policies and programs to turn that vision into reality.

“Over the next 15 years, those committed to improving SRHR at the global and national levels have their work cut out to ensure these important issues are not left behind as the global development agenda moves forward,” says Starrs. “Guttmacher’s suggested SDG indicators and the work of the Guttmacher-Lancet Commission are intended to provide a roadmap to help find ways to identify, measure, advance and ultimately attain these priorities. The end goal—to enhance the lives of people across the world—is at the core of all our efforts.”