Decisions about their bodies still out of reach for women: UN report

By Mario Villar

United Nations, Apr 14 (EFE).- Making decisions about their own bodies – from whom they want to have sex with to whether they use contraceptives or seek healthcare – continues to be out of reach for hundreds of millions of women around the world, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said Wednesday.

In its annual report, the UN agency aimed at improving reproductive and maternal health worldwide, for the first time analyses in depth the situation of the right to bodily autonomy, which it concludes remains out of reach for almost half the women around the planet.

“The fact that nearly half of women still cannot make their own decisions about whether or not to have sex, use contraception or seek health care should outrage us all,” UNFPA director Natalia Kanem said at a press conference.

Kanem added that the right to bodily autonomy is violated when a girl is subjected to genital mutilation, a woman is forced to have an abortion or become pregnant against her will, when she is raped or when a demand for a virginity test is made, a long list of common abuses.

The UNFPA report, however, looks at three main questions: whether the woman can say no to sex, whether she can make decisions on contraception, and whether she can make choices over health care.

According to the report, which is based on data from 57 developing countries (representing a quarter of the world’s population), only 55 percent of women are fully empowered to make their own decisions in these three areas.

These percentages, however, vary significantly between regions.

While in Latin America and the Caribbean and in East and Southeast Asia around 75 percent of women are able to exercise the right to bodily autonomy, in West and Central Africa, less than 40 percent are able to do so.

In three sub-Saharan African countries – Mali, Niger and Senegal – less than 10 percent of women can make independent decisions about their bodies, according to the report.

The report shows that in some countries, such as Mali, a clear majority of women can make decisions on contraception but only 22 percent can do so on health care and only one in three can refuse to have sex.

UNFPA acknowledges that the data collected, being very basic, may not accurately reflect reality but says that it does offer an approximation.

The situation has also worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic due to lockdowns and problems in accessing health and family planning services, according to the UN agency.

The report also analyzes the policies of these countries and highlights that 25 percent of them do not legally ensure full, equal access to contraceptives or that 20 percent do not have laws supporting sexual health.

The report also mentions legislations that violate the rights of women, including marry-your-rapist laws, that are in effect in 20 countries or territories and which establish that a man can escape criminal prosecution if he marries the victim.

It also recalls that 43 countries have no legislation addressing the issue of marital rape and that more than 30 countries restrict the freedom of women to move outside the home. EFE


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