Press Release

World must work harder to secure sexual and reproductive rights for all, says new UNFPA report

10 April 2019

The global reproductive rights movement that began in the 1960s transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of women, empowering them to govern their own bodies and shape their own futures. But despite the gains made over the past 50 years, since the establishment of UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, the world still has a long way to go before rights and choices are claimed by all, according to the State of World Population 2019, released by UNFPA today.

In India, UNFPA released the report in New Delhi and held a consultation which was attended by government, civil society organizations, young people and other UN agencies. The event witnessed the distinguished presence of people who had participated in the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994, a landmark conference that emphasized putting people first and upholding their sexual and reproductive rights and choices.

The consultation reflected on the achievements of ICPD over the past 25 years and deliberated on the unfinished agenda. Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Klaus Beck, Regional Programme Adviser and Officer in-charge, UNFPA India Country Office said, “India has covered a lot of ground in advancing sexual and reproductive health since 1994. I am confident the country will continue to provide global leadership in making universal access to the full range of sexual and reproductive health services, and reproductive rights and choices a reality for all.”

On the journey towards rights and choices, women and girls have faced social and economic barriers every step of the way. A coalition of civil society, activists, and organizations such as UNFPA have been helping tear down those barriers.

The efforts of the reproductive rights movements have dramatically reduced the number of unintended pregnancies and maternal deaths, and have cleared the way for healthier, more productive lives for untold millions, the new UNFPA report says.

The report traces advances in reproductive health on the anniversaries of two important milestones. It has been 50 years since UNFPA began operations in 1969 as the first United Nations agency to address population growth and reproductive health needs. It is also the 25th anniversary of the 1994 ICPD, where 179 governments called for all people to have access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including voluntary family planning, and safe pregnancy and childbirth services.

Much has been achieved since 1969, says the report. In India, the average number of births per woman was 5.2 in 1971, which currently stands at 2.3. Contraceptive use has increased from merely 9% in 1969 to 54% in 2019.

Yet, several challenges remain. In India, annually, 35,000 women continue to die during childbirth due to preventable causes. There are still an estimated 47 million women who want to prevent a pregnancy but are not using a modern method of contraception, highlighting the need to improve access to family planning and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services.

“Despite the increasing availability of contraceptives over the years, hundreds of millions of women today still have no access to them, and to the reproductive choices that come with them,” said UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem. “Without access, they lack the power to make decisions about their own bodies, including whether or when to become pregnant.”

“I call on world leaders to re-commit to the promises made in Cairo 25 years ago to ensure sexual and reproductive health and rights for all,” said Dr. Kanem. “The world will have a historic opportunity to complete the unfinished business of the ICPD at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 to be held in Kenya in November, where governments, activists and stakeholders will rally to protect the gains made so far, and fulfill the promise of the ICPD agenda, so that no one is left behind.”

The report also features 15 champions of change who have broken barriers in their own context and influenced the landscape of sexual and reproductive health and rights into what it is today.

“I salute these champions,” said Dr. Kanem. “We all have a role in pushing back against forces that would see us return to a time when women had little say in reproductive decisions or, for that matter, in any area of their lives,” she added. “The fight for rights and choices must continue until they are a reality for all.”

For more information, please contact:
UNFPA, India:
Tel: 011-46532333