The latest UNFPA State of World Population report says nearly half of women don't have bodily autonomy

That is, they're denied the right to decide whether to have sex with their partners, use contraception, or seek health care

(Image credit: Getty Images/Tetra images RF)

That is, they're denied the right to decide whether to have sex with their partners, use contraception, or seek health care

UNFPA's 2021 flagship State of World Population report has been released this month—and some of the findings highlighted are shocking.

The findings report that half of the women in the 57 countries surveyed are 'denied the right to decide whether to have sex with their partners, use contraception or seek health care.'

That is, only 55% of women have full control over their own choices with regard to healthcare, contraception, and saying yes or no to sex.

Only around 80% of countries have laws supporting sexual health and well-being, and only 56% of countries have laws and policies supporting comprehensive sexuality education.

It's the first time the UN report has focused specifically on bodily autonomy: that is, the power to make your own decisions about your body, without being afraid to do so as you'll be met with violence or anger.

A photo posted by on

Bodily autonomy is a basic human right, and not being able to have it can have serious implications for your mental health, general wellbeing, and self worth and confidence levels.

And, as the UNFPA report highlights, it can also be 'potentially depressing [for] economic productivity, undercutting skills, and resulting in extra costs to health care and judicial systems', too.

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,” says UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem. “In essence, hundreds of millions of women and girls do not own their own bodies. Their lives are governed by others.”

The first-of-its-kind report measured not just how much power women feel they have to make their own decisions about their bodies, but further, what the laws are in each country to support bodily autonomy and a women's right to make such decisions.

A photo posted by on

It found that as many as twenty countries or territories have 'marry-your-rapist' laws, where a man can escape criminal prosecution if he marries the woman or girl he has raped.

Forty-three countries have no legislation addressing the issue of marital rape - that is, if you are raped by a spouse.

And further, more than 30 countries restrict women’s right to move around outside the home.

Sadly, the report highlights that often, efforts to address abuse can lead to further violation.

Take someone trying to prosecute a rape, for example: as it stands in many countries, the system requires an invasive test.

“The denial of bodily autonomy is a violation of women and girls’ fundamental human rights that reinforces inequalities and perpetuates violence arising from gender discrimination,” says Dr. Kanem “It is nothing less than an annihilation of the spirit, and it must stop."

“By contrast,” Dr. Kanem says, “a woman who has control over her body is more likely to be empowered in other spheres of her life. She gains not only in terms of autonomy, but also through advances in health and education, income and safety. She is more likely to thrive, and so is her family.”

More must be done to bring about change–no woman should feel like they don't own their body.

The State of World Population report is published every year, and has been since 1978. It's aim is to shed light on issues surrounding both 'sexual and reproductive health and rights... exploring the challenges and opportunities they present for international development.'

Ally Head
Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, eight-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She regularly hosts panels and presents for things like the MC Sustainability Awards, has an Optimum Nutrition qualification, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw, with health page views up 98% year on year, too. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.