Vast numbers of women lack decision-making power over their own bodies
by Dr. Natalia Kanem
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
Reproductive rights and choices have become a reality for more women than ever, says UNFPA’s flagship report, State of World Population 2019, released this week. 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.
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.
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, at the ICPD, 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. But these gains are not enough.
Marginalized groups, in particular, face some of the highest unmet need for sexual and reproductive health services, the report says. These include ethnic minorities, youth, unmarried people, LGBT people, people with disabilities, and those living in poverty.
And in some circumstances, people are even losing access to the services they need to exercise their reproductive rights.
“We must push back against forces that would see us return to a time when women had little say in reproductive decisions or, for that matter, in any area of their lives,” said Dr. Kanem. “The fight for rights and choices must continue until they are a reality for all.”
''The world must redouble its efforts to secure the reproductive health and rights of all people''. http://www.unfpa.org/swop-2019
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Women’s rights and climate change
by Michelle Bachelet
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Across the planet, the climate crisis is stripping people of their rights and identity, and even, in some cases, their homes, their countries and their lives.
And within this context, there are a number of clear links between climate change and the effective enjoyment of women’s rights. To begin with, climate change has specific adverse impacts on women and girls.
During extreme weather events, women are more likely to die than men, due to differences in socio-economic status, and access to information. Women who are pregnant and breastfeeding are subject to food insecurity resulting from climate change. Saltier drinking water, because of rising sea-levels, may cause premature births, and maternal and newborn deaths.
The economic stress induced by disasters and climate change can lead to cases of child, early and forced marriages, as a coping strategy. And intensified threats to land, water, species and livelihoods profoundly affect women, who work the land or rely on ecosystems for their families'' subsistence.
The report submitted by my Office, in line with the Council''s Resolution 38/4, finds that entrenched discrimination intensifies the impacts of climate change on women – particularly when they are also subjected to discrimination as members of marginalised communities. The report describes many damaging outcomes, including a woman''s right to health, food security, livelihoods and involuntary displacement as areas become uninhabitable.
Last year, more than 17 million people became internally displaced, in 144 countries, due to natural disasters and climate change. That estimate, by the International Displacement Monitoring Centre, does not include people who may have crossed international borders. It is also 60% more than the number of people forced to leave their home by conflict.
Among these millions of displaced people, today and in the future, women and girls will be especially exposed to threats of gender-based violence, including human trafficking and other violations.
As the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has pointed out in its General Recommendation number 37, it is clearly urgent to take action to mitigate and adapt to the direct and indirect adverse impacts of climate change on women and girls. At the same time, women and girls have much to contribute to climate action.
This may particularly be the case for women from marginalised communities, who live in the most precarious, at-risk areas. Their intimate knowledge of the land and nature-based ecological strategies can be fundamental in the search for solutions that minimise climate harm, improve early warning, and build resilience.
In Chad, for example, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, a young woman from the Mbororo Fulani community, has joined other indigenous women to set up community management of natural resources – mapping water, in particular, and increasing women’s participation in community decisions.
With all our societies facing changes of immense magnitude, we need the contributions of everyone – and especially those who are dealing with climate change in their daily lives – so we can build good solutions.
The exclusion of half of society from effectively helping to shape policies, including those which respond to climate harms, means that those policies are likely to be less responsive to the specific damage being caused; less effective in protecting communities; and may even deepen the harm being done.
We need to empower women and girls of diverse backgrounds to fully participate as agents of change in preventing and responding to climate harms in their community.
And it is of vital importance that every State address the discrimination which limits women''s choices and freedom, the services they can access, and their participation in society.
The country-wide benefits of greater equality for women are potentially transformative. For example, according to a 2011 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization, if women had equal access to finance and resources, their farm yields would rise by 20 to 30 per cent. Between 100 and 150 million people would no longer go hungry. And carbon dioxide emissions could be substantially reduced.
In this context, I note the UN Human Rights Council''s Resolution 40/11, in March, declared that "promoting respect, support and protection for the activities of human rights defenders, including women and indigenous human rights defenders", are essential to both human rights and environmental protection.
Violence and threats that are inflicted on many brave environmental human rights defenders can silence those who work in the long-term interest of us all. We need to step up our efforts to protect them – women and men.
Among the activists demonstrating for greater climate action around the world, there are a number of young women. Their commitment and insight deserve to be emulated by many world leaders. As the Secretary-General has said, "This is not solidarity; it’s not generosity. It is enlightened self-interest".
I urge Member States to develop a deeper understanding of the impact of climate change on women; to identify opportunities to reduce those impacts and increase women’s participation in policy-making; and to commit to action.
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