Today on April 14th, the UNFPA launched the 2021 State of the World Report, highlighting the need for bodily autonomy as a universal human right. Bodily autonomy is the right for a person to govern what happens to their body without external influence or coercion. Ensuring this right is key to the realisation of all other human rights, including the right to health and the right to live free from violence. The report reveals major shortfalls in achieving bodily autonomy around the world. In many cases, the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic have worsened the situation. Record numbers of women and girls are at risk of gender-based violence and harmful practices including early marriage. The UNFPA report also acknowledges and addresses all those who are at risk and often excluded from making autonomous decisions about their bodies including people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, persons with disabilities, and ethnic and racial minorities.
hera partners Alice Behrendt and Marieke Devillé were invited to contribute to the writing of the report. In 2019 they led a hera team including Justine Jensen, Michelle Dramaix under the supervision of Dia Timmermans and the UNFPA Human Rights Office, to conduct research and a key systematic review for Sustainable Development Goal Indicator 5.6.1, which focuses on women’s ability to make autonomous choices. More specifically the indicator tracks whether a woman can refuse sexual intercourse with her husband or partner; whether using or not using contraception is primarily the woman’s decision or a joint decision with her husband or partner; and whether a woman can make her own decisions about reproductive health care. Their work is particularly reflected in the second chapter of the UNFPA report titled ‘ Three dimensions of Autonomy - Measuring the power to make decisions about health care, contraception and sex.
According to the hera team, the lens on women’s agency is an approach that is often omitted in the health and development paradigm. Monitoring has in the past typically focused on access to services, neglecting dimensions related to women’s ability to make choices about their sexual and reproductive health. The UNFPA revised indicators for Goal 5.6, with surveys and data collected from 57 countries, represents the first time we are tracking women’s decision making on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and the laws that enable women and men to access these services equally at a global level.
The UNFPA State of the World report released today illustrate clearly that there is still a long way to go. Only 55% of women surveyed globally said they had the power to make their own decisions about their bodies. It's a travesty and a wake-up call for governments and policymakers. Women all over the world are not yet in control of their bodies. Dr Natalia Kanem, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNFPA, says that “progress will largely depend on uprooting gender inequality and all forms of discrimination and transforming the social and economic structures that maintain them. Our communities and countries can flourish only when every individual has the power to make decisions about their bodies and to chart their own futures." As a long-standing defender of human rights, hera is committed to the SDG agenda and to working to support the right to bodily autonomy for everyone.
You can find the UNFPA State of the World Population report here: https://www.unfpa.org/sowp-2021
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