UNFPA: Inequality and lack of reproductive rights threaten development

A care taker carrying newly born baby at Jai Prakash Narayan government hospital on the occassion of the World Population Day in Bhopal, India, 11 July 2017. [Sanjeev Gupta/EPA]

Gender inequality, denial of reproductive rights and shortcomings in sexual education are becoming a possible threat to reach the UN development goals on ending poverty by 2030, a new report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) finds.

According the UNFPA, women in the bottom part of the economic ladder generally have little access to services and are least able to exercise their reproductive rights.

The poorest women often cannot decide themselves whether, when or how often they get pregnant, they have the least access to care during pregnancy and childbirth, the report “Worlds Apart: Reproductive health and rights in an age of inequality” concludes.

Meanwhile, in developing countries women living in cities, having better education and being wealthier, often have greater access to sexual and reproductive health services and are also more likely to realise their reproductive rights.

“This inequity has lasting repercussions for women’s health, their work life, their earnings potential as well as the well-being of their family and the development of their communities and nations,” warns UNFPA Brussels Office Director Sietske Steneker.

The report comes after the disturbing news of Donald Trump’s decision to cut US funding for family planning, a move that threatens to reverse progress made on expanding services to women in some of the poorest parts of the world.

Melinda Gates 'deeply troubled' by Donald Trump's planned budget cuts

Melinda Gates said she is “deeply troubled” by Donald Trump’s decision to cut funding for family planning, a move that threatens to reverse progress made on expanding services to women in some of the poorest parts of the world.

In 2015, up to 50% of women participated in the global labour force in comparison with 76% of men, while women make up 52% of the world’s population.

“Once in the paid labour force, women everywhere find themselves earning less than men for the same types of work; engaging more frequently in unskilled, low-wage labour; or spending less time in income-generating work and more time in unpaid care-giving work at home,” the report finds.

Out of 126 countries only Colombia, Jamaica and Saint Lucia saw an improvement with women holding at least half of management positions in the workplace.

The report names access to birth control, antenatal care and skilled in birth attendance as the crucial areas, leading also to smaller families with parents being able to spend more on their children’s health and education.

The biggest improvement here was observed in Cambodia, Senegal and Rwanda, as since 2005 the countries made the biggest progress in reducing inequalities in accessibility to those health measures, the report found.

Especially in terms of unmet demand for family planning in developing countries, the biggest disparity is found among women in the poorest 20% of households. There, at least 214 million women cannot get access to contraceptives, resulting in 89 million unintended pregnancies and 48 million abortions every year, the report says.

“The lack of power to decide whether, when or how often to become pregnant can limit education, delay entry into the paid labour force and reduce earnings,” Steneker told reporters on Wednesday.

To achieve prosperity, it should be the aim to first reach those furthest behind, the report states. “Without such action, many women and girls will remain caught in a vicious cycle of poverty, diminished capabilities, unfulfilled human rights and unrealised potential – especially in developing countries, where gaps are widest,” she added.

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