Press Release

UNFPA study shows limits on women’s reproductive decision-making worldwide - one quarter of women cannot refuse sex

1 April 2020

NEW YORK, USA - Approximately a quarter of women cannot refuse sex or make their own decisions about accessing proper health care, a major international study has found. UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, today released  groundbreaking new research revealing how far the world has come in allowing women and girls to make informed decisions about their reproductive rights. 

Most countries have strong laws to ensure women can access their sexual and reproductive health and rights. But the reality women face is often very different. UNFPA measured women's reproductive decision making in 57 countries, and legislation on sexual and reproductive health and rights in 107 countries, and the findings showed, amongst other trends, that in over 40% of the countries, women’s reproductive rights are regressing.

"One woman in four in the countries we examined is not able to make her own decisions about accessing health care. This is shocking and unacceptable,” said Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA Executive Director. “This new research offers a comprehensive picture of the state of sexual and reproductive health and rights around the world, both in law and the lived reality of women and girls. It will help us better understand what works and pinpoint the challenges that remain with a level of detail we have not had before.”

The new findings help us measure progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG 5), gender equality and women’s empowerment. More precisely, they cover two indicators under SDG 5 on achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (Target 5.6). Indicator 5.6.1 measures women’s reproductive autonomy and indicator 5.6.2 measures the legal and regulatory frameworks that exist in countries to allow people their sexual and reproductive health and rights. 

The key findings from the research include:

*Only 55% of women can make their own decisions on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

*A quarter of women are not able to make their own decisions about accessing health care.

*Countries on average have 73% of the laws and regulations in place needed to guarantee full and equal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

*Almost 100% of countries’ laws and regulations guarantee access to voluntary HIV counselling and testing and protect the confidentiality of people living with HIV.

*Many states impose legal restrictions that impede access to sexual and reproductive health and rights for certain groups - namely women and adolescents.

This research will be a crucial resource for UNFPA, governments, and partners to efficiently respond to the most pressing needs of women and girls around the world. For the first time, it allows us to identify the challenges different countries still face in the full realization of sexual and reproductive health and rights that legal frameworks may not account for.

You can access the research here: https://www.unfpa.org/sdg-5-6

For more information, please contact: Eddie Wright; ewright@unfpa.org; +1 917 831 2074