Nigeria: UNFPA Calls for Laws, Policies On 'Bodily Autonomy' for Women, Girls to Check GBV

The SWOP Report is UNFPA's flagship activity, annually launched to highlight different issues that affect the lives of women, girls and boys.

Ulla Mueller, the Country Representative of the UN Population Fund in Nigeria, has urged government at all levels to implement laws and policies that will empower and guarantee women and girls their bodily autonomy.

She made the call at the launch of the 2021 State of the World Population (SWOT) Report in Maiduguri on Thursday.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the SWOP Report is UNFPA's flagship activity, annually launched to highlight different issues that affect the lives of women, girls and boys.

The theme of this year's report is "My Body is My Own -- Claiming the Rights to Autonomy and Self Determination", emphasising bodily autonomy for women and girls to check Gender Based Violence and harmful practices.

Ms Mueller, who joined the launch of the report virtually, urged the media in Borno to give special attention to delivering the message of bodily autonomy to the public.

She said that the launch of the annual SWOP Report in Borno, which was the first, was in line with the decentralisation to states in 2021 and to shed light on emerging population and development issues, including sexual and reproductive health and rights issues to draw global attention.

She added that "at this very moment today, somewhere in the world, an adolescent girl is expected to undergo some harmful practice such as Female Genital Mutilation. Somewhere in the world at this moment, a girl is married off, ending her dreams of completing secondary education, a critical source of skills in changing economies.

"Somewhere at this very moment, a pregnant woman who wants to deliver at the hospital is threatened with divorce. More than 60 per cent of deliveries take place at home without a skilled birth attendant.

"Many of such home deliveries result in physical trauma due to prolonged labour and a disability known as foot drop, a nerve injury that makes it difficult for the woman to walk. She can also get obstetric fistula and then due to her incontinence, her husband will desert her and remarry.

"Somewhere in the world, a woman who walks into a clinic is told she cannot access contraception without the permission of her husband.

"For millions of girls, early marriage also leads to health risks associated with early childbearing such as obstetric fistula and even death.

"According to UNFPA's 2021 Flagship State of World Population report, only 55 per cent of women worldwide are fully empowered to make choices over healthcare, contraception and the ability to say yes or no to sex."

She noted that this was the first time the report focused on bodily autonomy, saying "the lack of bodily autonomy has massive implications beyond the profound harms to individual women and girls; potentially depressing economic productivity, undercutting skills, and resulting in extra costs to healthcare and judicial systems.

"Through this groundbreaking report, UNFPA is measuring both 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.

"The data shows a strong link between decision-making power and higher levels of education.

"The report shows that in countries where data is available, 71 per cent of countries guarantee access to overall maternity care, 75 per cent of countries legally ensure full, equal access to contraception.

"It also shows that 80 per cent of countries have laws supporting sexual health and well-being, while 56 per cent of countries have laws and policies supporting comprehensive sexuality education."

'Marry your rapist laws'

The SWOP Report also documents other ways bodily autonomy is violated, revealing that 20 countries or territories have "marry-your-rapist" laws, where a man can escape criminal prosecution if he marries the woman or girl he has raped.

Meanwhile, in their respective remarks, the Permanent Secretary of Borno Ministry of Women Affairs, Mohammed Hamza, and the Director, National Population Commission, Kachalla Yerima, lauded the report and urged stakeholders to use it for the purpose intended.

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