CALL FOR PAPERS

DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY AND SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH AND RIGHTS

Background

The evolution of digital technology over the past decades has impacted every facet of our daily lives, including our health and well-being, as well as how we experience our human rights, safety and security.[1] Technologies such as mobile apps, telemedicine and digitalisation of health systems, the use of the  internet and other forms of digital technologies have already transformed elements of health care, including sexual and reproductive health (SRH) care, providing opportunities for the expansion of  SRH information, interventions and products.[2] For example, Femtech’ – diagnostic tools, products, services, wearables and software that use technology to address women’s health issues, including menstrual health, reproductive health, sexual health, maternal health and menopause – has been designed to improve the delivery of care and facilitates self-care for women, address stigmatised topics, delivers culturally sensitive and tailored care and aims to reduce the issue of gender inequality in tech. ‘Sex tech’ evolved to enhance and create innovation around sexual experiences and includes a diverse range of products such as sex therapy apps, sex education chatbots, dating apps, sexual entertainment  platforms, smart vibrators, tele-dildonics, virtual companions and AI-powered sex robots.[3] Other type of cross-cutting digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence, big data analytics, blockchain and smart wearables, have developed with the intention of broadening opportunities and capitalising on efficiency and cost effectiveness within SRH interventions and programmes. In addition, digital technology has been important for SRHR advocacy and movement organising both locally and globally.

Increasingly, available evidence demonstrates how digital technology can have multiple positive impacts on sexual and reproductive health and rights.  It can expand access to SRH services, reaching even the most marginalised, structurally excluded, and hard to reach populations, including those living with disability, Indigenous people, rural populations and refugees and those experiencing subversive healthcare services in restrictive policy settings, such as transgender people and sex workers. It can provide information and counselling as well as access to services and products whose availability may be restricted, such as emergency contraception, medical abortion or transition care. Digital technology has been also providing the opportunity for communication, information sharing, organising and advocacy for SRHR advocates, activists and communities.

While SRHR related digital technology (SRHRtech) holds promise and potential to revolutionise SRH services, access to care and advancement for SRHR more broadly, adverse effects have been documented and concerns have been raised, including that digital technology deepens exclusion, marginalisation, discrimination, and results in human rights violations. Health disparities, for example, can be exacerbated by digital technologies that unintentionally reinforce social, legal and cultural inequities. While access to digital technology can improve adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health, without proper protection mechanisms of safety, confidentiality and privacy, it can further subject adolescents to stigma and jeopardise their safety and security. Marginalised communities, including people living with HIV, sex workers, LGBQ, trans and intersex people can be disproportionately impacted by the collection, regulation, aggregation and commercialisation of their private and intimate data, especially in criminalised settings.

Sustained attention to the role of digital technologies for SRHR is a critical concern, assessing how these technologies can be strengthened and integrated to advance accessibility, availability, acceptability, and quality SRH services, as well as to address SRHR needs beyond the health sector while safeguarding human rights, such as those related to privacy, confidentiality, non-discrimination and equality, and addressing ethical considerations, safety and security issues. Designing and managing ethical and rights-based SRHRtech at scale, establishing effective, responsible and transparent governance and accountability mechanisms, including the collection, storage and sharing of sexual and reproductive health related data, is a critical need. In addition, interactions between public and private entities related to digital technologies needs further examination, especially regarding the role of private actors in public health systems.[4] Moreover, designing digital technology interventions and governance needs to take into consideration the needs of both health service providers (e.g., community health workers, nurses, physicians, etc.) and users.[5]

This themed issue of Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters (SRHM) provides a space for community groups and experts, researchers, policymakers, implementers, advocates and activists to articulate rights-based considerations related to the development, adoption and implementation of digital technologies for SRHR. It will examine opportunities, challenges and progress using a multidisciplinary lens, striving to identify threads across digital health interventions and policies. Furthermore, it aims to build and strengthen the evidence base about digital technologies for SRHR, as well as identify and inform good practices for the use of digital technology and policies that govern the uptake of innovative interventions.

 

Scope of papers

Papers submitted to the issue should clearly focus on digital technologies related to SRHR, and explicitly highlight human rights related considerations related to digital technology and SRHR. The following are areas of special interest:

  • Equity and non-discrimination related considerations, with special attention to the impact of digital technology on marginalised and structurally excluded populations and communities such as adolescents, people living with disabilities, Indigenous refugee and migrant, and internally displaced populations, those affected by war, people living with HIV, transgender persons, LGBQ+ individuals, sex workers and their access to SRH services
  • Assessing how technologies can strengthen or impede accessibility, availability, acceptability and quality SRH services, and whether and how rights, including those related to privacy, confidentiality, non-discrimination and equality, are impacted by digital technology
  • How cross-cutting digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence and big data analytics, can broaden opportunities and capitalise on efficiency and cost effectiveness within SRH interventions and whether and how they can jeopardise or respect and protect privacy, confidentiality, safety and security
  • Analysis and good practices of effective, responsible and transparent governance and accountability mechanisms surrendering SRHRtech, including the collection, storage and sharing of sexual and reproductive health related data, privacy and protection measures both for users and providers,
  • Rights-based considerations on the interactions between public and private entities related to digital technologies affecting SRHR, including regarding the role of private actors in public health systems.
  • Use of digital technologies in restrictive political, cultural, social, and legal settings – for example, criminalised settings and where access to and the provision of certain SRH services is stigmatised – and documentation of legal, political, and social contexts enabling or disabling the adoption of digital technologies for SRHR.
  • Good practices of the development of rights-based laws, regulations and policies regulating digital technologies for SRHR
  • Whether and how digital technology has been providing the opportunity for communication, information sharing, organising and advocacy for SRHR movements and advocates.

 

Submissions

We welcome submission of the following article types from authors across disciplines on the theme of digital technologies for SRHR:

  • Original, rights-based research articles, including quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods research
  • Scoping reviews, systematic reviews and meta-analyses
  • Analytical reviews, such as historical, policy and legal analyses
  • Commentaries, rights-based narratives and critical perspectives

Please read our instructions for authors carefully before submission: https://tandfonline.com/action/authorSubmission?journalCode=zrhm21&page=instructions.

All listed authors must meet the criteria for authorship set out by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors.

We also invite you to watch a short video with the editors of this themed issue on the types of papers we are looking for and the submission process: http://www.srhm.org/news/meet-the-editors-digital-technology-and-sexual-and-reproductive-health-and-rights/

 

Submission deadline

The deadline for submissions is 15 January 2023. Papers should be submitted online at: http://www.edmgr.com/zrhm/default.aspx. When prompted, please select the option indicating that your manuscript is being submitted to the ‘Digital Technology and SRHR’ issue; please also specify this in your cover letter. A standing Editorial Committee will be involved in the selection of articles for the issue, in addition to our routine external peer-review process.

 

Article publishing charges, waivers and discounts

Manuscripts accepted following peer review are subject to article publishing charges (APCs) if they are longer than four typeset pages – see here for more details. 100% APC waivers are available for corresponding authors whose primary affiliations are in countries defined by the World Bank as low-income economies. 50% APC discounts are available for corresponding authors whose primary affiliations are in countries defined by the World Bank as lower-middle-income economies. Please select the appropriate waiver or discount option during the submission process. Please note waivers and discounts are managed by our publisher Taylor & Francis. Full details of their waive policy and countries eligible for discounts are provided here.

The issue is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation India and DKT International, and a limited number of discretionary waivers is available. Authors wishing to submit to this themed issue of Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters who do not have institutional backing and who are not eligible for a 100% waiver or a 50% discount based on the criteria described above may request a discretionary waiver. Please send your request (no more than 500 words) to editorial@srhm.org. Requests should (a) describe why you require a waiver for this issue and (b) briefly summarise the study/manuscript. Eligible requests will be considered by the Editorial Committee and the SRHM editorial team, and waivers will be allocated before the submission deadline. Authors requesting a discretionary waiver should not submit their manuscript until they have heard back about their request. The deadline for requesting a discretionary waiver for this themed issue is 9 December 2022. No requests will be considered after this date.

 

[1] The World Health Organization (WHO) have recognized this paradigm shift, with the WHO adopting the Global Strategy on Digital Health, 2020-2025. Available :https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/344249/9789240020924-eng.pdf; for the UN’s recognition on the importance of digital technologies, see https://www.un.org/en/content/digital-cooperation-roadmap/

[2] https://www.undp.org/sites/g/files/zskgke326/files/2021-06/UNDP-Information-Asymmetries-in-the-Digital-Sexual-and-Reproductive-Health-Space-EN.pdf

[3] Zahra Stardust, Kath Albury and Jenny Kennedy, Sex tech for sexual health, rights and justice: findings from the first public interest sex tech hackathon. SRHM Blog. + September 2022. Available at: http://www.srhm.org/news/sex-tech-for-sexual-health-rights-and-justice-findings-from-the-first-public-interest-sex-tech-hackathon/

[4] DIGITAL HEALTH AND RIGHTS: PARTICIPATORY ACTION RESEARCH PROJECT.

[5] https://www.undp.org/publications/guidance-rights-based-and-ethical-use-digital-technologies-hiv-and-health-programmes