People's Stories Women's Rights

State of World Population 2019
by Dr. Natalia Kanem
UN Population Fund (UNFPA)
April 2019
More than four in 10 women in 51 countries surveyed, feel they have no choice but to agree to their partner’s sexual demands, the UN sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA, said on Wednesday, noting that they are also unable to make basic decisions about getting pregnant and accessing health care for themselves.
Monica Ferro, Director of UNFPA Geneva, said the figures were “worrisome” and it was essential to raise the level of consent and access to vital health services, for millions of women around the world. “Don’t forget: each one of these numbers is a person”, she added.
The findings, relating to women aged 15-49, are being published for the first time, as part of UNFPA’s State of World Population 2019 report.
800 a day die from preventable causes related to childbirth.
The report shows that an estimated 214 million women cannot easily access contraceptives because of cultural and economic obstacles - despite their increasing availability - while more than 800 women die every day from preventable causes during pregnancy and childbirth.
According to the analysis, the absence of reproductive and sexual rights has a major and negative repercussions on women’s education, income and safety, leaving them “unable to shape their own futures”.
Those women and girls left behind “are typically poor, rural and less educated”, Ms. Ferro said, adding that “two-thirds of all maternal deaths today occur in sub-Saharan Africa”.
In addition to the rural and urban poor, unmet needs for sexual and reproductive health services are also highest in marginalized groups – including minority ethnic groups – young people, unmarried people, LGBTI individuals and those with disabilities.
The blight of early marriage
Early marriage continues to present a major cultural obstacle to female empowerment and better reproductive rights, the UNFPA report suggests.
“A girl who marries when she is 10 will probably leave school,” Ms. Ferro said. “And because she leaves school, she won’t get the negotiating skills, and she won’t get the specific skills which will allow her to then get a better-paid job.”
In addition to economic concerns, girls who marry early face serious health risks too, added the senior official: “If she is married at 10, the probability is, that she will start child-bearing before her body is even ready for that, not to talk about her mind...This will also increase the possibilities of her going through complications in pregnancy, and complications in childbirth.”
‘Staggering’ rise in sexually-transmitted infections
Additional health risks caused by barriers that block women’s access to contraception also include a “staggering” 376 million new infections of chlamydia, gonorrhoea or syphilis every day, among people between the ages of 15 and 44, the UNFPA Geneva Director added.
Despite these concerns, the UNFPA report highlights that “untold millions” have enjoyed healthier and more productive lives in the 50 years since the agency was founded, thanks to pressure from civil society and governments to dramatically reduce unintended pregnancies and maternal deaths.
Highlighting positive changes in the last half-century, the report shows that in 1969, the average number of births per woman was 4.8, compared with 2.9 in 1994, and 2.5 today.
Fertility rates in least-developed countries have dropped significantly in that time too; from 6.8 in 1969, to 5.6 in 1994 and 3.9 in 2019, while the number of women who died from pregnancy-related causes has decreased from 369 per 100,000 births in 1994, to 216 in 2015.
In addition, while 24 per cent of women used modern contraceptives in 1969, that percentage increased to 52 per cent in 1994 and 58 per cent in 2019, UNFPA says.
Conflict and climate disasters leave reproductive rights forgotten
Looking ahead to future challenges, the UN agency highlights the threat to women’s and girls’ reproductive rights posed by emergencies caused by conflict or climate disasters.
Some 35 million women, girls and young people will need life-saving sexual and reproductive health services this year, as well as services to address gender-based violence, in humanitarian settings, it warns.
“Every day, more than 500 women and girls including in countries with emergency settings, die during pregnancy and childbirth, due to the absence of skilled birth attendants or emergency obstetric procedures,” Ms. Ferro said.
Warning that women and girls left without decent reproductive rights are unable to have the future they want, UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem called on world leaders to “re-commit” to ensuring sexual and reproductive health and rights for all – a pledge made at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo.
“Without access, they lack the power to make decisions about their own bodies, including whether or when to become pregnant,” Dr. Kanem insisted.
At that meeting in Egypt, 179 governments called for all people to have access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including voluntary family planning, and safe pregnancy and childbirth services.
“I call on world leaders to re-commit to the promises made in Cairo 25 years ago”, said Dr. Kanem. “The world will have a historic opportunity to complete the unfinished business of the ICPD at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 to be held in Kenya in November, where Governments, activists and stakeholders will rally to protect the gains made so far, and fulfill the promise of the ICPD agenda, so that no one is left behind.”
Echoing that appeal, Judith Bruce, one of 15 “champions of change” featured in the report for their positive influence in sexual and reproductive health and rights, called for the UN’s 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development Goals to be used to drive investment to places where child marriage, sexual coercion and poverty overlap.
Some 50 million 10-year-old girls in the world’s poorest countries face growing pressures “to trade sexuality and fertility” in the face of “increasing climate emergencies, conflict, displacement, scarcity and stress”, Ms. Bruce insisted.

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Social protection systems, access to public services for gender equality
by UN Commission on the Status of Women, agencies
Mar. 2019
Social protection systems, access to public services for gender equality - Report of the UN Secretary-General
In this report, the contribution of social protection systems, public services and sustainable infrastructure to the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls are examined.
The report underlines the potential of coordinated action throughout the three areas for realizing the rights of women and girls across the life course by freeing up their time, supporting their mobility, enhancing their access to economic opportunities and strengthening their resilience to shocks.
While important progress in access in these areas in recent decades is noted, persistent gaps and gender biases are highlighted, and suggestions are given on how these may be rectified.
The situation of groups of women and girls who, due to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, are particularly affected by exclusion and marginalization is also highlighted.
The report contains calls for greater participation and accountability and requisite levels of financing to ensure that no one is left behind.
The report concludes with recommendations for consideration by the Commission on the Status of Women session taking place between 11–22 March 2019.
Heeding the spirit of the 2030 Agenda’s cross cutting commitment to gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, their provision must also be geared towards transforming unequal power relations between women and men.
The commitment to leaving no one behind, in turn, requires that the needs and rights of women and girls facing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination be addressed as a matter of priority.
In target 5.4 of the Sustainable Development Goals, there is an explicit acknowledgement of the importance of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies for recognizing and valuing unpaid care and domestic work. Throughout the world, this work is disproportionately carried out by women and girls. It sustains families, societies and economies, but remains poorly supported.
As a result, women and girls face constraints in the realization of their rights to education, employment, participation, leisure and rest. Investment in the three areas are critical to free up their time and support their mobility and access to economic opportunities.
In line with existing international commitments, policies must safeguard women’s and girls’access to social protection, public services and sustainable infrastructure, while ensuring that their design and delivery is transformed to prevent discrimination and to support the empowerment of women and girls. Close attention must be paid to the gender-differentiated risks that women and girls are exposed to over their life course and to the ways in which gender intersects with other inequalities.
* Access the report via the link below:

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