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Reproductive rights: still a long way to go

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UNFPA, State of World Population 2019, the reproductive rights movements‘The cost of inaction is simply too high: more women and girls dying… more unsafe abortions…’

The global reproductive rights movement that began in the 1960s transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of women, enabling them to govern their own bodies and shape their own futures.

But despite the gains made over the past 50 years, since the establishment of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations’ sexual and reproductive health agency, the world still has a long way to go before rights and choices are claimed by all, according to the State of World Population 2019, a report released by UNFPA earlier this year.

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

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

Nonetheless, the efforts of the reproductive rights movements have dramatically reduced the number of unintended pregnancies and maternal deaths, and have cleared the way for healthier, more productive lives for untold millions, the report said.

And it traced advances in reproductive health on the anniversaries of two important milestones.

It has been 50 years since UNFPA began operations in 1969 as the first United Nations agency to address population growth and reproductive health needs.

It is also the 25th anniversary of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), where 179 governments called for all people to have access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including voluntary family planning, and safe pregnancy and childbirth services.

And much has been achieved since 1969:

The average number of births per woman was 4.8 then, compared to 2.9 in 1994 and 2.5 today; the fertility rate in the least developed countries has dropped from 6.8 in 1969, to 5.6 in 1994 and 3.9 in 2019.

And the number of women who died from pregnancy-related causes has decreased from 369 per 100,000 live births in 1994, to 216 in 2015.

In addition, 24 per cent of women used modern contraceptives in 1969, compared to 52 per cent in 1994 and 58 per cent in 2019.

However, reproductive rights are still out of reach for too many women, including the more than 200 million women who want to prevent a pregnancy but have no access to modern contraceptive information and services.

Facts and figures from the report:

The highest unmet needs for sexual and reproductive health services are among marginalized groups, including minority ethnic groups; young people; unmarried people; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people; people with disabilities; and the rural and urban poor.

An estimated 800 million women alive today were married when they were children.

Every day, more than 500 women and girls in countries with emergency settings die during pregnancy and childbirth.

To read the full report, click here.

UNFPA’s Executive Director Dr Natalia Kanem, in a statement for this year’s World Population Day, on 11 July, said: ‘Women have a right to make their own decisions about whether, when and how often to become pregnant.

That right was reaffirmed in 1994 in Cairo at the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), where 179 governments agreed that sexual and reproductive health is the foundation for sustainable development.

In Cairo, we imagined a future in which every pregnancy is intended because every woman and girl would have autonomy over her own body and be able to choose whether, when and with whom to have children.

We imagined a world where no woman would die giving life because – no matter her location or socioeconomic or legal status – she would have access to quality maternal health care.

We imagined a time where everyone would live in safety, free from violence and with respect and dignity, and where no girl would be forced to marry or have her genitals mutilated.

Yet, despite considerable gains over the past 25 years, we still have a long way to go to live up to the promise of Cairo.

At UNFPA, we are working with countries and partners to deliver on the world we imagined 25 years ago.  Our sights are firmly set on achieving three zeros by 2030:

zero unmet need for family planning;

zero preventable maternal deaths; and

zero gender-based violence and harmful practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation.

High-quality data will help us zero in on where the needs are greatest and end the invisibility of those furthest behind.

At a summit to be convened by Denmark, Kenya and UNFPA in Nairobi this November, the international community will have an opportunity to recommit to the promises they made in Cairo and transform the world we imagined in the ICPD Programme of Action into a reality for every woman and girl.

It is time to act now, urgently, to ensure that every woman and girl is able to exercise her rights. With greater contraceptive options, they can prosper as equal partners in sustainable development.

The cost of inaction is simply too high: more women and girls dying, more unintended pregnancies, more unsafe abortions, more pregnant girls shamed out of school, the potential of individuals and societies squandered.’

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