Claiming the right to autonomy and self-determination

Her Majesty The  Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck, UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador launched UNFPA’s State of World Population Report 2021  on 11 May.

Sonam Penjor

Her Majesty The Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck, the Goodwill Ambassador to UNFPA, launched the State of World Population report 2021 titled ‘My Body is My Own- Claiming the Right to Autonomy and Self-determination’ on 11 May.

The report states that globally nearly half of all women are denied their bodily autonomy with violations including rape, forced sterilization, virginity texting, female genital mutilation and many more.

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 health care.

“For the first time, a United Nations report focuses on bodily autonomy. The term ‘bodily autonomy’ is the powers to make choices about one’s body without fear of violence or having someone else decide for you.”

According to the report, this lack of bodily autonomy has massive implications beyond the profound harm to individual women and girls: potentially depressing economic productivity, undercutting skills, and resulting in extra costs to health care and judicial systems.

Through the key findings of the report, UNFPA measured women’s power to make their own decisions about their bodies and the extent to which countries’ laws support or interfere with a woman’s right to make these decisions. Data from the report show a strong link between decision-making power and higher levels of education.

A message from the Royal Patron of Red Dot Bhutan, Her Royal Highness (HRH), Eeuphelma Choden Wangchuck stated that as the country embarks on a new cycle of raising awareness and actions on menstrual hygiene management, “I call on all to renew your efforts and support the efforts the Government and partners have been making towards menstrual hygiene.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated menstruation-related challenges have become more urgent and pronounced. “We have made good progress in ensuring access and availability of menstrual hygiene products and in destigmatizing the taboos around menstruation.” “However, much needs to be done.”

HRH said that gender inequality, discriminatory social norms, cultural taboos, poverty, and lack of basic services often cause girls’ and women’s menstrual health and hygiene needs to go unmet.

These issues have far reaching negative impacts on the lives of those who menstruate: restricting their mobility, freedom, and choices; affecting attendance and participation in school and community life; compromising their safety; and causing stress and anxiety.

HRH Eeuphelma Choden Wangchuck said, “We must understand and acknowledge that the onset of menstruation coincides with new opportunities- and vulnerabilities- that arise during adolescence. Menstrual health and hygiene interventions can be an entry point for other gender-transformative programs during this period, such as sexual and reproductive health education and life skills development.”

She said that by strengthening self-efficacy and negotiating ability, menstrual health, and hygiene programs can help girls build the skills to overcome obstacles to their health, freedom and development, such as gender based violence, child marriage and school dropout.

Meanwhile, the report shows that in countries where data are available where only 55 percent of women are fully empowered to make choices over health care, contraception and the ability to say yes or no to sex.

In addition only 71 percent of countries guarantee access to overall maternity care, only 75 percent of countries legally ensure full, equal access to contraception and only about 80 percent of countries have laws supporting sexual health and well- being.

This also shows that, only about 56 percent of countries have laws and policies supporting comprehensive sexuality education.