Against My Will: UNFPA’s State of the World Population Report 2020

Every year, UNFPA, the leading agency on reproductive health and rights worldwide, releases its State of the World Population (SWOP) report. The report highlights the most pressing issues in reproductive health in the current moment. This year’s report was titled Against My Will and focused on the ways in which girls are stripped of their rights and futures.  

Female Genital Mutilationcut, scraped, stitched 

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a dangerous tradition rooted in extreme gender inequality and a desire to control women’s sexuality and fertility. The practice involves the partial or full removal of the clitoris or labia and is performed on girls anytime from birth to age 15. 

However, FGM follows a girl throughout her life, causing chronic pain, infections, infertility, anxiety, depression, and even death. 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone FGM. Lapses in preventative programs due to the COVID-19 pandemic are expected to cause 2 million additional cases of FGM.  

© UNFPA

Child marriage: promised, traded, given, sold 

Every day, 33,000 girls become child brides. But, these girls are taken out of school and begin childbearing. Today, the leading killer of girls aged 15-19 are complications from pregnancy and childbirth.

Child marriages are often transactional, with families negotiating bride prices and dowries, such that parents are able to take care of themselves financially.  However, this practice often perpetuates the cycle of poverty. Married girls are robbed of the opportunities that would allow them to become economically independent from their husbands. Child marriage is also seen as a way to protect girls from sexual violence. That husbands may also perpetrate violence is overlooked. 

Today, 650 million women were married as girls. The effects of COVID-19 are expected to result in 13 million additional child marriages over the next ten years.  

Digital platforms have become a way to reach vulnerable women and girls with support, counselling and services responding to gender-based violence. © UNFPA

Son preference: unwanted, neglected, erased 

Son preference is the result of societies that value boys’ lives more than girls. It can take place before birth via sex-selective abortions or in vitro fertilization or after birth by causing the death of a baby girl through neglect or harm. 

The result of son preference is a society in which men greatly outnumber women. Sadly, this leads to increased incidents of gender-based violence like rape, sex trafficking, and child marriage. Today, 140 million girls are missing due to son preference.  

These harmful practices stem from gender inequality. They are misunderstandings of the ways in which women’s bodies work and what women want. Eliminating harmful practices is one of UNFPA’s transformational goals to achieve by 2030. 

– Dana Kirkegaard


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