Less than 10% of women in 3 West African countries have a say on sex, family planning, and healthcare.
More than half the women in Sub-Saharan countries do not have the right to decide whether to have sex with their partners, use contraception or seek healthcare, according to a recent United Nations report.
Bodily autonomy is a universal right that must be upheld, said the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) flagship State of World Population, 2021 report released April 14.
The report flagged:
"When woman’s power to control her own body is linked to how much control she has in other spheres of her life, just 48 percent of women and girls aged 15-49 years in 36 Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries are able to make their own decisions regarding their body and health."
For example, 39 percent of women there do not have the choice or power to decide on healthcare in the SSA region, the report said.
"The fact that nearly half the women still cannot make their own decisions about whether or not to have sex, use contraception or seek healthcare, should outrage us all,” said Natalia Kanem, executive director, UNFPA, in her foreword.
UNFPA arrived at these conclusions based on the limited data available across a quarter of countries. It added that it was likely that in every other country, women were not fully in control of their bodies.
The alarming state of bodily autonomy for millions of women and girls across the world is feared to have further worsened during the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, it said.
Women in eastern and south-eastern Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean, however, were able to take autonomous decisions in all three dimensions — sexual relations, contraceptive use, and reproductive health.
In comparison, less than half the women in sub-Saharan Africa and central and southern Asia were able to do so.
Lagging behind: Women in West Africa
The status of women in West Africa worsened across 57 developing countries, data based on demographic and health surveys in these countries showed. Less than 10 percent of women in three West African countries — Mali, Niger, and Senegal — had control over their body and reproductive health.
The UN agency noted that a high percentage in one of the parameters (body autonomy, seeking contraception, and healthcare) did not automatically mean high percentages in others. Hence, West African countries like Mali were ranked low in the report.
In Mali, for example, 77 percent of women took independent or joint decisions on contraceptive use, but only 22 percent were able to do the same in seeking healthcare.
In Ethiopia, 53 percent of women were able to say no to sex, but 94 percent could independently or jointly make decisions about contraception.