To Achieve Global Gender Equality, Women Need Sexual and Reproductive Autonomy

Supermajority Education Fund

April 6, 2020

Newly released findings from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reveal just how much work needs to be done to achieve full gender equality across the globe — especially when it comes to sexual and reproductive rights. Nearly half of women and girls in more than 50 countries reported that they could not make their own reproductive decisions, and a quarter said they are unable to say no to sex. If more is not done to improve the state of reproductive rights globally, the report warns, the United Nations’ stated goal of reaching gender equality by 2030 will not be met.

“The high level of women who are NOT able to make their own decisions on their sexual and reproductive health and rights highlights the urgent need for policies and programs to focus not only on the provision of services but to address women’s autonomy,” the report’s authors note. 

Advocates say the UNFPA survey further highlights how much full gender equality is tied to reproductive justice.

“Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are key to unlocking our full potential to live liberated, dignified lives with full bodily autonomy,” Leila Hessini, Vice President of Programs at Global Fund for Women, told Supermajority News. “This timely report makes clear how far we have to go to achieve access to comprehensive SRHR at a time when COVID-19 has already burdened health systems and exacerbated existing injustices and inequalities.” 

To address these inequalities, Hessini stressed that governments and agencies worldwide have to ensure that women and girls have access to contraceptives and abortion care in particular, while also overturning harmful policies like the global gag rule, which forbids nongovernment organizations that receive funds from the U.S. government from working on abortion services or referrals. The report also cautions that girls who are married as teens or children, and those who have limited access to education are particularly vulnerable to sexual and reproductive coercion. The older and more educated a woman was when she married, the more likely she was to report that she could make her own decisions regarding her sexual and reproductive rights.

“We must support global entities like UNFPA as well as grassroots leaders working for full gender justice,” said Hessini. She added that support had to include “access to safe abortion, and work to end harmful policies like the global gag rule, to make progress on this life-saving and life-affirming issue.”