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Vast numbers of women lack decision-making power over their own bodies, says UNFPA flagship report

10 April 2019

UNITED NATIONS, New York — Reproductive rights and choices have become a reality for more women than ever, says UNFPA’s flagship report, State of World Population 2019, released today. Yet despite these gains, vast numbers of women around the world are not empowered to make fundamental decisions about their own bodies.

UNFPA’s report publishes, for the first time, data on women’s ability to make decisions over three key areas: sexual intercourse with their partner, contraception use and health care.

Across the 51 countries where this information is available, only 57 per cent of women who are married or in a relationship are able to make their own choices over all three areas. 

Women’s sexual and reproductive autonomy was greatest in two countries: the Philippines and Ukraine, where 81 per cent of women are empowered to make these decisions for themselves.

It was lowest in three countries: Mali, Niger and Senegal. In these countries, only 7 per cent of women are able to make their own choices over all three areas. 

“We still have a long way to go before all women and girls have the power and the means to govern their own bodies and make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive health,” said UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem.

A story of progress

 

As dire as the statistics may seem, they represent massive progress in the long history of reproductive health and rights, says the new report, which is titled “Unfinished business: The pursuit of rights and choices for all.” 

It was only in 1968 that leaders affirmed, for the first time in a global declaration, that individuals had the right to “determine freely and responsibly the number and the spacing of their children.” 

Increasing numbers of people were able to exercise this right as family planning methods became more accessible and reliable.

And as women grew empowered to make their own reproductive choices, a wide range of benefits accrued to their health and economic well-being. 

https://eeca.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/tefta-shakaj-SWOP.jpg

Tefta Shakaj is a midwife in Albania. She says opportunities for women and girls have been improving over the last 25 years. © UNFPA/G. Banaj

 

 

Then 25 years ago, at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), governments of the world adopted a revolutionary agreement calling for women’s reproductive health and rights to take centre stage in development efforts.

Since then, access to voluntary family planning has expanded around the world. In 1994, 52 per cent of women used modern contraceptives, compared to 58 per cent today.

Access to reproductive health services has improved, too. The number of women who die from pregnancy-related causes has dropped from 369 per 100,000 live births in 1994 to 216 in 2015.

 

A long way to go

 

But these gains are not enough. 

 

“Marginalized groups, in particular, face some of the highest unmet need for sexual and reproductive health services”, said Ms. Rita Columbia, UNFPA Country Director for Albania in the launch of report in Durrës, Albania among young peole and teachers of the sports high school. “These include ethnic minorities, youth, unmarried people, lesbian, gay, bisexual and intersex people, people with disabilities, and those living in poverty. This is why it is very important to empower women and girls to make their free-will choices on the number and spacing of children, as well as to empower and enable young people make well informed life choices.”

 

 

Rita Columbia, UNFPA Country Director for Albania (from left at the center), Brian Williams-Resident Coordinator UN Albania (first from left) and other invitees in the SWOP 2019 launch in Durrës, Albania.© UNFPA

 

 

“This is why UNFPA calls that “The fight for rights and choices must continue until they are a reality for all, leaving no one behind”, said Mr. Brian Williams, Resident Coordinator of UN Albania.