Accelerating women’s right to decide on their own body

13 September 2019 – By Pernille Fenger, chief, UNFPA Nordic Office

Today, on Friday 13 September, it has been 25 years since 179 countries agreed that the right of the individual to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights is at the center of sustainable development. At the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in Cairo. the international community adopted a groundbreaking Programme of Action where equality, women’s self-determination and the right to decide over their own bodies formed fundamental principles.

An increasing number of women have access to contraception and are able to decide for themselves if they want to have children, when and how many. Worldwide, on average, women now have half as many children as they did 50 years ago. When women have opportunity to choose, most choose smaller families.

However, despite progress since the ICPD, challenges remain. We are experiencing setbacks to women’s rights in many parts of the world as a result of growing conservatism. We have a long way to go before the vision of sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights becomes a reality for everyone, everywhere.

More than 200 million women who do not want to become pregnant are not protected by efficient contraception. Every year, 12 million girls are forced into marriage. Every year, more than 300,000 women die from complications during pregnancy or childbirth. Deaths which could have been prevented with qualified assistance.

Young women and girls suffer the most from lack of sexuality education, contraception and access to health services. And above all, they still have not had their fundamental right fulfilled to decide over their own bodies and own lives.

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the ICPD, the international community will meet again. This time at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, on 12-14 November – a summit hosted by Denmark, Kenya and UNFPA. Here, it is the hope of UNFPA that UN Member States, civil society organizations, businesses and other partners will make strong and concrete commitments. Commitments indicating how all actors will contribute to strengthening women’s and young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.

It is a unique opportunity which will not only contribute to the vision from Cairo, but also to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Eleven crucial years are left of the ambitious deadline that the international community set itself to realize these fundamental human rights. The right of every girl to choose her life is at stake. But so is our entire common future and development.