UNFPA Report Calls for Stepping Up Action on Gender Equality to Meet the SDGs
UN Photo/Evan Schneider
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UNFPA has released the 2017 edition of its State of World Population report 'Worlds Apart: Reproductive Health and Rights in an Age of Inequality'.

The report notes that since the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development was agreed, initiatives have been taken to extend access to sexual and reproductive health services across the globe, and gaps have narrowed across countries; still, disparities are not closing fast enough to meet the ambitions of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The report outlines ten specific actions countries can take to address gender inequality and inequalities in realizing sexual and reproductive health and rights.

17 October: The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has released the 2017 edition of its State of World Population report that discusses gender inequality and inequalities in realizing sexual and reproductive health and rights. The report warns that these inequalities could undermine the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on ending poverty, eliminating preventable deaths and achieving sustainability.

Sub-titled ‘Worlds Apart: Reproductive Health and Rights in an Age of Inequality,’ the report outlines 10 actions countries can take on the path towards equality. It also discusses inequality in health and rights, the intersection of inequalities in women’s health and rights and economic inequality, the costs of inequality and reaching the furthest behind first to make progress on equality.

The report notes that inequality should be understood not only in terms of distribution of wealth or income but also as a complex phenomenon, involving diverse forms of disparity between the sexes, between races and ethnicities, and between urban and rural residents. Gender inequality, and inequalities in realizing sexual and reproductive health and rights are two critical dimensions of the phenomenon, according to the report.

The report emphasizes that no country, even among the wealthiest and most developed, can claim to be fully inclusive.

The report stresses that no country, even among the wealthiest and most developed, can claim to be fully inclusive, where all people have equal opportunities and protections, and fully enjoy their human rights. It indicates that in 34 countries worldwide, gaps have widened between 2008 and 2013, with incomes for the wealthiest 60 percent of the population growing faster than those for the bottom 40 percent. The late Babatunde Osotimehin, former Executive Director, UNFPA, writes in the report’s foreword, that the combined wealth of the world’s 2,473 billionaires exceeds US$7.7 trillion, which is equivalent to the combined gross domestic product (GDP) of four-fifths of the world’s countries in 2015, while many hundreds of millions of families live on less than $1.25 a day.

The report indicates that, based on the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Gender Gap Index, 68 out of 142 countries had larger gender gaps in 2016 than a year earlier. The Global Gender Gap Index captures differences between men and women in accessing resources and opportunities, such as income and labour-force participation, education, health and political empowerment.

The report notes, however, that since the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) was agreed, initiatives have been taken to extend access to sexual and reproductive health services across the globe, and gaps have narrowed across countries. However, disparities are not closing fast enough to meet the ambitions of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the report argues.

The report states that 12.8 million adolescent girls have an unmet demand for family planning in developing countries, and that limited access to family planning translates into 89 million unintended pregnancies and 48 million abortions in those countries annually, which restricts women’s ability to join or stay in the paid labor force and move towards financial independence. In addition, the lack of access to related services, such as affordable child care, stops women from seeking jobs outside the home. According to the report, 60 percent of working women do not benefit from any statutory right to maternity leave and even fewer have access to payment during that leave; the absence of paid maternity leave and employers’ discrimination against those who become pregnant amount to a motherhood penalty, forcing many women to choose between a career and parenthood. As noted by UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem, inequality is increasingly about the “cans and cannots,” and poor women who lack the means to make their own decisions about family size or who are in poor health because of inadequate reproductive health care dominate the ranks of the cannots.

The report recommends action on multiple fronts to tackle all forms of inequality (including social and economic) and both its consequences and its root causes, noting that the Republic of Korea, for instance, has coupled its investments in health, including reproductive health services, with investments in education in order to make progress and provide opportunities to all. The report outlines ten specific actions countries can take to address inequality:

  • Meet all commitments and provide universal social protection to human rights agreed in international treaties and conventions.
  • Tear down barriers (whether discriminatory laws, norms or service gaps) that prevent adolescent girls and young women from accessing sexual and reproductive health information and services.
  • Reach the poorest women with essential, life-saving antenatal and maternal health care.
  • Meet all unmet need for family planning, prioritizing women in the poorest 40 percent of households.
  • Provide a universal social protection floor, offering basic income security and covering essential services, including maternity-related benefits and support.
  • Bolster services such as childcare to enable women to enter or remain in the paid labour force.
  • Adopt progressive policies aimed at accelerated income growth among the poorest 40 percent, including through stepped-up human capital investments in girls and women.
  • Eliminate economic, social and geographic obstacles to girls’ access to secondary and higher education, and to their enrollment in courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
  • Accelerate the transition from informal jobs to formal, decent work, focusing first on sectors with large concentrations of poor, female workers, and unblock women’s access to credit and property ownership.
  • Work towards measuring all dimensions of inequality and how they influence each other, and strengthen links between data and public policy.

The State of World Population is UNFPA’s flagship report and is issued annually. [Publication: State of the World Population 2017: Worlds Apart – Reproductive Health and Rights in an Age of Inequality] [UN Press Release] [UNFPA Press Release] [UNFPA News]

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