United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, delivered a public lecture regarding women’s sexual and reproductive health rights at this year’s Helen Kanzira Memorial lecture on Tuesday 15 May.

Prof. Cheryl de la Rey, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria, welcomed the guest speakers. “We will hear more about why this is an important event, not only in the lives of those at the University of Pretoria, but in the lives of all citizens of South Africa and the world at large,” she said.

Pillay began the lecture by commemorating the late Helen Kanzira, who was a student of the pioneer class of the LLM in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa.

Kanzira died at the age of 39 in October 2007 due to complications that arose during childbirth. “Helen’s memory inspired women in Africa to focus on the individual and collective values of each and every woman and to work to ensure that women enjoy healthy and productive lives and give birth to new life in freedom of choice and without discrimination,” stated Pillay. Important subjects concerning the violation of human rights and in particular, women’s rights, were discussed at length. Other topics addressed in Pillay’s lecture emphasised the large degree to which women’s sexual and reproductive rights are violated across the globe on a daily basis.

Commentary regarding the progress made in the realisation of the enjoyment of human rights by women since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 dominated the bulk of Pillay’s discussion. “Women continue to experience a multitude of human rights violations. These range from gender-based violence to denial of women’s legal capacity,” she said.

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