8 reasons for hope in the new year

Leticia Souza Bezerra, 29, is a teacher and mother of two from Brazil's Macuxi indigenous group. Ms. Bezerra turned to UNFPA after learning of a programme that helps women gain access to the right contraception for them. She explained that choosing her own birth control was important for her bodily autonomy and deciding how many children to have, which in turn enabled her to better care for them while also pursuing other dreams. © Newsha Tavakolian/Magnum Photos for UNFPA
  • 21 December 2022

UNITED NATIONS, New York – “If it bleeds, it leads,” is an old newsroom adage, highlighting the media’s disproportionate attention given to grisly disasters. A look back at 2022 will surface many doom-laden headlines, grim pronouncements and dark prophecies about the future. Not everyone will have noticed, then, the considerable progress that has been made in advancing innovations, rights, equity and justice throughout the world.

Below are eight reasons for exiting 2022 with more hope than sorrow, eight reasons to ring in the new year with our expectations high and our commitment to human rights and welfare even higher. 

The Executive Director smiles with a mother and baby.
Mariel, 30, introduces her new daughter, Heart Eunne Fae, to UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem during her visit to the Philippines. Mariel was able to give birth safely thanks to a UNFPA mobile health unit that was deployed to reach women and girls in need in areas affected by Super Typhoon Rai. © UNFPA Philippines/Ezra Acayan

  1. The global trend is towards strengthened reproductive rights.

There are, of course, notable exceptions to the trend of strengthened reproductive rights and access to health services. It’s true that the COVID-19 pandemic rolled back progress by overwhelming health systems, disrupting supply chains and reducing information and services. These challenges remain deeply concerning, with advocates and health experts redoubling their efforts to reach everyone in need. Still, the overall trend is a promising one. 

The UNFPA 2022 State of World Population report called for unintended pregnancy to be acknowledged as a global crisis; political and civil society leaders have heeded that call, recognizing as tragic and unacceptable the fact that nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended. 

We also see more countries passing laws to uphold and protect reproductive health and rights. “We know about this progress because, for the first time on a global scale, we can measure it under the Sustainable Development Goals,” UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem said. “UNFPA has surveyed 153 countries with nearly 90 per cent of the world’s population. An encouraging 76 per cent now have laws upholding sexual and reproductive rights.”

  1. Justice is on the march.

This past year brought food insecurity, fuel crises and many other emergencies in which the poorest and most marginalized have been the worst impacted. It may have gone unnoticed, then, that justice frameworks – to remedy historical wrongs, to call attention to overlapping systems of oppression, to prioritize the most left behind – are being increasingly applied to the world’s largest problems.

Take the historic agreement at the November COP27 conference to provide the most vulnerable countries with “loss and damage” funding in recognition of their heightened exposure to climate change – a catastrophe to which they have contributed minimally. 

Leaders are also issuing powerful calls for sexual and reproductive justice. In November, a new report by the High Level Commission on ICPD25 urged countries, advocates and policymakers to combat “intersecting forms of oppression that impede sexual and reproductive justice” and to recognize and support “the leadership and power of the most excluded groups, particularly marginalized women and girls, and stand behind the efforts of women and their communities.”

  1. Women are calling for safety in digital spaces.

An unfortunate reality of our world is that many digital spaces are not safe for women and girls. More than eight in 10 have witnessed technology-facilitated violence like cyberbullying and non-consensual sharing of intimate images (so-called “revenge porn”). But in 2022, many of these women and girls stood up to say enough is enough – and UNFPA stood with them. 

For the past two years, UNFPA’s award-winning bodyright campaign has called for greater protections for women, girls and members of marginalized communities against digital abuse. Similar in concept to the © for copyright, the ⓑ symbol at the heart of the campaign represents empowerment, self-ownership and a claim to bodily autonomy. 

Since bodyright’s launch in 2021, more than 30,000 people have signed UNFPA’s petition urging policymakers and technology companies to recognize online violence where it happens and end it. This groundswell of support is a clear signal of solidarity with survivors, which won’t stop until women and girls can live freely and without fear, whether online or off. 

  1. Sexual violence in conflict is being openly condemned.

On the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, Dr. Kanem recognized the destructive consequences of sexual violence: “It brutalizes bodies, scars minds and even kills. It silences and shames women, sowing fear and insecurity.”  

Last year, women and girls caught in humanitarian emergencies around the world faced a disturbing trend: the risk that sexual violence had become normalized in their communities amid conflict. However, this form of gender-based violence is anything but normal – it is a violation of human rights and a crime under international law. And it must end. 

UNFPA’s humanitarian programmes around the globe have helped thousands of health centres to offer specialized care for rape and other forms of violence and supported millions of survivors. The organization’s work continues to amplify their voices and urge for justice. Survivors know that, when it comes to widespread sexual violence in conflict, #ThisIsNotNormal, and it’s time the world ensured its elimination. 

  1. Activists are creating change and disrupting harmful practices. 

Implementing new practices and changing long-held, damaging norms takes time and determination, but across the world people have been creating new ways to speed up the process, from delivering life-saving supplies via drones, to mobile maternity units helping women give birth in a crisis and new tech designed for women and girls to feel safer online. 

In Laos and the Maldives, UNFPA teams are using TikTok to train midwives and spark debate about bodily autonomy, and in Bangladesh a blockchain app is now delivering menstrual supplies. Meanwhile in a global innovation challenge, UNFPA awarded 10 groups of creators funding and support to develop transformative projects – from an app in Armenia that helps women protect themselves against gender-based violence to an AI chatbot in Colombia that teaches sex education to teenagers. 

Across continents and generations, innovation and invention are leading the way: campaigning for change, challenging damaging beliefs and helping women and girls protect themselves and each other. 

  1. Mental health is a global priority. 

From spiking levels of anxiety and depression reported during the pandemic to post-traumatic stress for those caught up in conflict and climate emergencies, the world is seeing an alarming rise in mental health concerns. 

Two people hug.
A psychologist comforts Olga, who has recently fled the war in Ukraine and was sheltering with her ten-year-old son in a UNFPA-supported safe space in Chișinău, the capital of the Republic of Moldova. © UNFPA/Siegfried Modola

Young people and women are affected the most by mental trauma, whether this be surviving gender-based violence, being forced into child marriage, enduring female genital mutilation, obstetric fistula, unintended pregnancies or online abuse –  all significant factors in depression and psychological distress. 

Over the past few turbulent years, UNFPA has scaled up its psychosocial support, referrals for legal aid and medical services, and expanded access to safe spaces and shelters. We are helping girls who survived sexual violence and child marriage, women attacked for speaking out and having a career and millions of people discriminated against because of where they were born or because they are living with a disability

Across the globe, the state of mental health appears to be in crisis; but it is a crisis to which UNFPA – and its front-line force of nurses, doctors, midwives and humanitarians – are committed to staying and delivering.

  1. Menstruation is being acknowledged as a human rights issue. 

A group of girls with dignity kits smile.
Period poverty is a widespread and often stigmatized human rights issue. But Isatou, Mariama and Fatoumatta no longer have to stop going to classes during their periods, thanks to a UNFPA programme that supports production and free distribution of reusable sanitary pads, including for girls at St. John's School for the Deaf in Banjul, the Gambia. © UNFPA The Gambia

Enormous progress has been made over the past decade in highlighting that menstruation is not only an issue of health, hygiene and dignity, but also a matter of gender equality and human rights. Advocates have changed minds about menstruation at every level, including at the United Nations, where the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution calling out menstruation stigma, shame and exclusion as human rights concerns. 

National policymakers are taking up the issue as well, with some countries signing free period products into law. Many more are addressing the unequal financial burden of menstrual hygiene products as well as highlighting the need for jobs and classrooms to accommodate menstruating people. 

  1. The human family has reached 8 billion people. 

On 15 November, 2022, the global population reached its highest-ever level: 8 billion. This historic achievement reflects a world in which more women survive childbirth, more children survive infancy, and more people live longer and healthier lives. “It's a testament to decades of progress in public health and reducing poverty, and it's a story of more resilient and more effective health-care systems,” said Dr. Kanem in her remarks on the Day of 8 Billion

Of course, these gains must be protected as challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, conflict and climate change, threaten reversals. But with 8 billion of us now on earth come 8 billion reasons for hope that, together, we can build a more inclusive, just and sustainable future – a world of infinite possibilities.

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