According to the United Nations, only around half of the world’s women are able to make their own decisions regarding sexual consent and healthcare, limiting gender equality for millions. A study by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reported that women’s rights are actually on the decline in some countries, and one in four women does not have the freedom to say no to sex. Even more women, according to the report, cannot make their own decisions regarding their healthcare.

The United Nations has ‘achieve gender equality by 2030’ as one of their fundamental global goals. Adopted in 2015, this goal was seen as a way to address social issues such as poverty and conflict. The UNFPA report examined whether or not women have access to healthcare and the ability to make decisions surrounding contraception and sex. Emilie Filmer-Wilson, a human rights advisor to UNFPA, said that the researchers determined a woman is empowered if she has access and can say yes to these three areas: access to healthcare, agency regarding contraception, and ability to say no to sex. Only 55 percent of women from data from 57 countries were able to say yes to all three questions.

Factors seen as influencing women and their decision making include levels of education, age when they marry, and views of husbands. In one in ten countries, being a married woman is a prerequisite in order to gain access to maternal healthcare. More than 25 percent of countries in the study also have age limitations when accessing contraceptives; a husband’s permission is also required to obtain an abortion.

“Women’s ability to make decisions on reproductive health, contraceptive use and sexual relations is pivotal to gender equality and universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights,” said the UNFPA report.

These considerations are more important than ever in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Women can feel pressured into having sex when in a relationship, and being quarantined can increase these pressures. Lack of access to maternal healthcare when so many hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients and pressures can be potentially dangerous for women lacking contraceptives or healthcare.

Sources: Reuters, 4/1/20; NBC News, 3/28/20.

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