The State of the World Population (SWOP) Report is an annual publication of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) since 1978, aimed at throwing more light on emerging issues in the field of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).
It is an annual observance by the international body to project its stand on a particular subject matter.
All through the trajectory of assessing world population, the report is essentially designed to congregate issues on world population into the mainstream and explore challenges and opportunities they present for international development.
In 2020, the report was launched in New York with the theme: “Against My Will – Defying The Practices That Harm Women And Girls And Undermine Equality’’, which covered harmful acts that impact women and girls globally.
While focusing on ending harmful practices against women and girls such as rape, Early and Forced Child Marriage, Female Genital Mutilation and assault, among other Gender-Based Violence (GBV) cases, the UNFPA Executive Director, Dr Natalia Kanem, said “harmful practices against girls cause profound and lasting trauma, robbing them of rights to reach their full potential.
“The impact ripples throughout society and reinforces the very gender stereotypes and inequalities that gave rise to the harm in the first place. The female is not a commodity to be traded, she is not an object of desire and not a burden to discard.’’
In 2021, however, the SWOP Report launched on April 14, 2021, has “My Body is My Own: Claiming the Right to Autonomy and Self-Determination’’ as its theme, reflecting on key challenges around bodily autonomy and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).
The annual event, has, however, been decentralised as states in Nigeria take turns to launch the report so as to deepen understanding of the theme among the people.
It is, therefore, paramount to note in the foregoing that nearly half of women in 57 developing countries are denied the right to decide whether to have sex with their partners, use contraception or seek healthcare, according to the UNFPA 2021 SWOP Report.
For the first time, a UN report focuses on bodily autonomy and the power for women to make choices about their bodies without fear of violence or having someone else decide for them.
The report noted that “the lack of bodily autonomy has massive implications beyond the profound harms to individual women and girls, potentially depressing economic productivity, undercutting skills, and resulting in extra costs to healthcare and judicial system.”
Through the report, UNFPA tried to measure both women’s power to make their own decisions about their bodies and the extent to which countries’ laws support or interfere with women’s right to make decisions.
It also indicates that data shows a strong link between decision-making power and a higher level of education.
The report notes that in countries where data is available, 55 per cent of women are fully empowered to make choices over healthcare, contraception and the ability to say yes or no to sex.
It notes that only 71 per cent of countries guarantee access to overall maternity care, 75 per cent of countries legally ensure full, equal access to contraception, 80 per cent of countries have laws supporting sexual health and well-being, while 56 per cent of countries have laws and policies that support comprehensive sexuality education.
Dr Natalia Kanem, the Executive Director of UNFPA, described the denial of woman’s autonomy or access to sexual reproductive and health rights as a gross violation of human rights.
She said “the fact that nearly half of women cannot make their own decisions about whether or not to have sex, use contraception or seek healthcare should outrage us all.
“In essence, hundreds of millions of women and girls do not own their own bodies. Their lives are governed by others.”
Interestingly, the report also strives to document many other ways that the “bodily autonomy” of women, men, girls and boys are violated.
It indicated that 20 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, while 43 countries have no legislation on the issue of marital rape.
The 2021 SWOP Report added that “it is unbelievable to note that more than 30 countries in the world still permit dehumanising laws of restricting women’s right to move around outside the home.
“The vulnerable community, especially girls and boys with disabilities are nearly three times more likely to be subjected to sexual violence, with girls at the greatest risk.”
In a search for a lasting solution and end all forms of sexual enslavement of women, UNFPA agreed that the power to say yes, the right to say no remain the only acceptable therapy but there are emerging constraints to achieving the desired solution.
However, the report shows how efforts to address abuses can lead to further violations of bodily autonomy, noting that to prosecute a case of rape, the criminal justice system might require a survivor to undergo an invasive so-called virginity test.
Therefore, only the collective efforts of stakeholders in shaming the perpetrators than blaming the survivors will help, the report adds.
In Mongolia, for example, persons with disabilities organised to give direct input to the government about their sexual and reproductive health needs and in Angola, young people educated about their bodies, health and rights have been able to seek healthcare, use family planning, decline sex and petition for justice after sexual violence, the report added.
Understandably, therefore, it is Dr Kanem’s conviction that a woman who has control over her body is more likely to be empowered in other spheres of her life and gains not only in terms of autonomy, but also through advances in health and education, income and safety and indisputably she is more likely to thrive, and so is her family.
Ms Ulla Mueller, the Country Representative, UNFPA Nigeria, also said “achieving bodily autonomy is a major step toward ending violence against women. It has become imperative to end all forms of violence against women, as well as ending impunity. Bodily autonomy is about the power to say yes and the right to say no.
“Achieving bodily autonomy is ending violence against women. Impunity has to end and give access to justice.”
Mueller described the SWOP Report as UNFPA’s flagship programme aimed at bringing Gender-Based Violence issues to the mainstream by leaving no one behind.
According to her, gender equality benefits men’s health and reduces maternal mortality.
She decried the lower percentage of women that had rights over their bodies, which according to her is 46 per cent.
Alhaji Isa Kwarra, the Executive Chairman, National Population Commission (NPC), who called for increased support for women and girls to harness their potential, emphasised the need for them
to make choices about their bodies, including when to marry.
He said, “women should have the right to decide when to have children, how to space the births of children, decide on the number of children they wish to have.”
Mr Lawal Idris, the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Population, said that
giving women and girls access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHS) would help
in attaining Demographic Dividends (DD).
According to him, girl child education is paramount in the development of the country.
Ms Buky Williams, the Executive Director, Education as Vaccine (EVA), stressed the need for women and girls to access education, noting that the measure would assist in ending child marriage and its negative consequences.
Williams regretted that child marriage and women’s denial to Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights was responsible for high maternal mortality.
Dr Eyitayo Oyetunji, the Federal Commissioner for Oyo, described the theme of the 2021 SWOP Report as apt, adding that it was aimed at empowering women and girls, in view of the trauma and deprivations the female gender was made to suffer.
He stressed that it was not only men that deny women autonomy, but women who employed girls as commercial sex workers and human traffickers.