SOWP Report Findings a Wake-Up Call for Zim Government to Respect Women’s Bodily Autonomy

GOVERNMENT should allow women the power to make decisions regarding their own Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH), a top Zimbabwe Ministry of Women Affairs, Community Small and Medium Enterprises official has said.

By Michael Gwarisa

This was revealed during the launch of the 2023 State of the World Population Report (SWOP) in the Capital Harare. The report was conducted by the United National Population Fund (UNFPA) and revealed that while the world population has reached the 8 billion mark, more women and girls were still lagging in terms of access to basic SRH services.

According to data from the SOWP report, over 40 percent of women around the world cannot exercise their right to make decisions as fundamental as whether or not to have children.

Speaking at the launch, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community Small and Medium Enterprises Development, Mr Moses Mhike said while concerns around population growth are rising during anxiety across governments and pushing to try and influence fertility, the right to make reproductive choice should be respected in women.

Women’s bodies should not be held captive to choices made by governments or other individuals. Women must be able to choose if, when, and how many children they would like to have. The SOWP report shows that people today are still unable to achieve their reproductive goals due to unplanned pregnancies, lack of access to contraception or quality obstetric care, infertility, and economic instability, among other serious challenges,” said Mr Mhike.

He added that the report is clear that advancing gender equality is the best tool for managing population change and building resilient societies.

“When women and girls are empowered by society to exert autonomy over their lives and bodies, they and their families thrive. The Knock-on effect is a better, more inclusive world, well equipped to deal with whatever demographic changes and challenges the future holds.”

At the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in 2019 in Nairobi Kenya, five global themes were picked and these are Universal Sexual Reproductive Health Rights in the context of Universal Health Coverage (UHC), creating financing momentum, demographic diversity and sustainable development, Gender Based Violence (GBV) and Harmful Practices against women and girls, and Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) in fragile contexts.

UNFPA Deputy Country Representative Dr. Gulnara Kadrykulova said while the population has 
grown, more people especially young women and girls remain out reach in as far as access 
to services is concerned.

“Thirty years ago, at the ICPD, we set out to achieve a world in which people lived longer, healthier lives and enjoyed more rights and choices than ever before. This vision has become a reality for many; in fact, the human population is at its highest number ever, thanks in large part to improvements in health care and increased longevity. Yet, as we celebrate the progress that has been made, we must also recognize that for millions, even billions, of others, this promise remains out of reach,” said Dr Kadrykulova.

She added that World Population Day is a reminder that it is possible to achieve the prosperous, peaceful and sustainable future envisioned by the ICPD and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development if we harness the power of every human being on the planet.

“When we unlock the full potential of women and girls – encouraging and nurturing their desires for their lives, their families and their careers – we galvanize half the leadership, ideas, innovation, and creativity to better society. Realizing sexual and reproductive health and rights for all is the foundation for gender equality, dignity and opportunity. Empowering women and girls, including through education and access to modern contraception, helps to support them in their aspirations — and to chart the path of their own life.”

She also said advancing gender equality was a crosscutting solution to many population concerns. In ageing societies that worry about labour productivity, achieving gender parity in the workforce is the most effective way to improve output and income growth.

United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Mr Edward Kallon, said o achieve sustainable development as the world population has reached 8 billion people, policies must prioritize the well-being of both people and the environment.

“Notwithstanding the infinite possibilities, we must not ignore the challenges that come with a world state of population where eight billion lives intersect. Balancing the needs and aspirations of an ever-growing population with the limits of our planet’s resources is no simple task. It requires sustainable and inclusive policies that prioritize the well-being of both people and the environment.

“Education, particularly for girls and women, is key to addressing these challenges. Educated individuals are more likely to make informed choices and contribute to sustainable development. Investing in QUALITY education, particularly in disadvantaged communities, can help break the cycle of poverty, decrease birth rates, and empower individuals to become responsible global citizens,” said Dr Kallon.

Meanwhile, the 2023 World Population Day report was held under the theme for this year’s commemorations is: “Unleashing the power of gender equality: Uplifting the voices of women and girls to unlock our world’s infinite possibilities”.

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