You are here

Nearly half of all women are denied their bodily autonomy, says new UNFPA report, My Body is My Own


Violations include rape, forced sterilization, virginity testing, female genital mutilation and more


Egypt, 21 April 2021 - Nearly half of women in 57 developing countries are denied the right to seek health care services, including sexual and reproductive health and family planning services, according to UNFPA's 2021 flagship State of World Population report.


For the first time, a United Nations report focuses on bodily autonomy: the power and agency to make choices about your body, without fear of violence or having someone else decide for you. This lack of bodily autonomy has massive implications beyond the profound harms to individual women and girls: potentially depressing economic productivity, undercutting skills, and resulting in extra costs to health care and judicial systems.


Key findings: my body, but not my choice

Through this groundbreaking report, UNFPA is measuring both women’s power to make their own decisions about their bodies and the extent to which countries’ laws support or interfere with a woman’s right to make these decisions. The data show a strong link between decision-making power and higher levels of education.


The report shows that in countries where data are available:

  • Only 55 per cent of women are fully empowered to make choices over health care, family planning and the ability to say yes or no to sex.
  • Only 71 per cent of countries guarantee access to overall maternity care.
  • Only 75 per cent of countries legally ensure full, equal access to family planning.
  • Only about 80 per cent of countries have laws supporting sexual and reproductive health and well-being.
  • Only about 56 per cent of countries have laws and policies supporting comprehensive sexuality education.


“The fact that nearly half of women still cannot make their own decisions about whether or not to have sex, use contraception or seek health care should outrage us all,” says UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem. “In essence, hundreds of millions of women and girls do not own their own bodies. Their lives are governed by others.”


The report also documents many other ways that the bodily autonomy of women, men, girls and boys is violated, revealing that:


  • Twenty countries or territories have “marry-your-rapist” laws, where a man can escape criminal prosecution if he marries the woman or girl he has raped.
  • Forty-three countries have no legislation addressing the issue of marital rape (rape by a spouse).
  • More than 30 countries restrict women’s right to move around outside the home.
  • Girls and boys with disabilities are nearly three times more likely to be subjected to sexual violence, with girls at the greatest risk.


UNFPA Arab States Regional Office (ASRO) launched the report today in partnership with the UN Women Arab States Regional Office, and the UN Development Coordination Arab States Regional Office.


“Not all women and girls are aware of their rights to decide on their own bodies, including opposing female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage, but educated women and girls are more likely to practice these rights and combat sexual violence. says UNFPA Arab States Regional Office Director, Dr. Luay Shabaneh.

“There is no empowerment of women without bodily autonomy.  While economic and social equality are widely accepted as the pillars of good development practice, no true empowerment and freedom from exploitation and abuse can materialize until a woman has full control over her sexual and reproductive choices.” said Ms. Laila Baker, The UN Development Coordination Office, Regional Director for Arab States.

The State of World Population report is UNFPA’s annual flagship publication. Published yearly since 1978, it shines a light on emerging issues in the field of sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, bringing them into the mainstream and exploring the challenges and opportunities they present for international development.


Notes to editors

As the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA helps people obtain contraception and life-saving reproductive health services and information and empowers women and girls to make informed decisions about their bodies and lives.


You can access the UNFPA State of World Population report, My body is my own: Claiming the right to autonomy and self-determination, and all its materials through the following links:

SWOP 2021 Report in English:

Webstory in English:

Highlights brochure in English :


For more information about UNFPA ASRO, please visit:


For interviews or more information, please contact

In Cairo: Samir Aldarabi, Regional Communications Adviser for the United Nations Population Fund for the Arab States Region, +201068484879,