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The State of World Population 2017

Unchecked inequality and failure to protect the rights of the most vulnerable women could undermine peace, trigger unrest and jeopardize global development goals: UNFPA’s flagship report

Unless inequality is urgently tackled globally, including Asia-Pacific, and the poorest and most vulnerable women are empowered to make their own decisions about their lives, countries could face unrest and threats to peace and to their development goals, according to the State of World Population 2017, the United Nations Population Fund’s annual flagship report.

The costs of inequalities, including in sexual and reproductive health and rights, could extend to the entire global community’s goals, adds the new UNFPA report entitled, “Worlds Apart: Reproductive Health and Rights in an Age of Inequality.”



Economic inequality goes hand in hand with inequality in reproductive health, the report underscores. When women are able to control their fertility and shape their lives and destinies, they can achieve a complete education, enter the paid labour force and gain more economic power, all of which strengthen their fundamental rights as human beings. 

Read: Asia-Pacific press release - The State of World Population 2017

“Inequality in countries today is not only about the haves and have-nots. Inequality is increasingly about the cans and can-nots,” says UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem, in her introduction to the report.

“Poor women who lack the means to make their own decisions about family size or who are in poor health because of inadequate reproductive health care dominate the ranks of the can-nots.”



In the vast majority of developing countries, the poorest women have the fewest options for family planning, the least access to antenatal care, and are most likely to give birth without help from a doctor or midwife.

Limited access to family planning translates into an estimated 89 million unintended pregnancies and 48 million abortions, many of them unsafe, in developing countries annually. This not only harms women’s health, but also restricts their ability to join or remain in the paid labour force and move towards financial independence, the report argues. 



Read: Stunning drop in maternal deaths in Cambodia 

Lack of access to related services, such as affordable child care, also stops women from seeking jobs outside the home. For women who are in the labour force, the absence of paid maternity leave, and employers’ discrimination against those who become pregnant, amount to a motherhood penalty, forcing many women to choose between a career and parenthood.

“Countries that want to tackle economic inequality can start by tackling other inequalities, such as in reproductive health and rights, and tearing down social, institutional and other obstacles that prevent women from realizing their full potential,” Dr. Kanem says.


Read: Mothers too young: how inequality fuels teenage pregnancy in Thailand

UNFPA’s 'Worlds Apart' report recommends focusing on the furthest behind first, in line with the United Nations blueprint for achieving sustainable development and inclusive societies.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has “envisaged a better future, one where we collectively tear down the barriers and correct disparities,” the report states.

“Reducing all inequalities needs to be the aim. Some of the most powerful contributions can come from realizing...women’s reproductive rights.”


Read: How midwives bridge inequalities in remote Lao PDR


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