Cheymi Gallardo Sánchez became a mother at age 15. In 2019, Cheymi was invited to participate in UNFPA-supported youth activities in her community, and she soon attended a camp for young leaders from around the country. There she learned about sexual and reproductive rights issues, including the issue of teenage pregnancy, contraceptive methods and abusive relationships. Today, she works with Kabata Konana, a group of indigenous women leaders, to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights and challenge gender stereotypes.
“We tried to flee on the back of a truck, but they caught us. They took me away, raped me and left me in the bush.” Mahlet* was just 17 when she fled her home in November 2021 to escape the conflict raging in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region.
Amidst a historic fertility slowdown, the world’s population is expected to reach 8 billion on 15 November 2022, with India projected to become the most populous country in 2023, according to the UN.
Almost one third of women in developing countries had their first baby while they were still in their teens, a recently released report shows, with nearly half of those new mothers aged 17 and younger – still children themselves. Gender-based and income inequalities are highlighted as key in fuelling teen pregnancies by increasing child marriage rates, keeping girls out of school, restricting their career aspirations, and limiting health care and information on safe, consensual sex.
Data show that restricting access to abortion does not prevent people from seeking abortion, it simply makes it more deadly. As UNFPA’s 2022 State of World Population report reveals, nearly half of all pregnancies worldwide are unintended, and over 60 per cent of these unintended pregnancies may end in abortion. A staggering 45 per cent of all abortions are unsafe, making this a leading cause of maternal death. Almost all unsafe abortions occur in developing countries, and UNFPA fears that more unsafe abortions will occur if access to abortion becomes more restricted.
Sexual violence in conflict settings remains widespread and systematic, a recent report by the United Nations Secretary-General found, fuelled by “rising inequality, increased militarization, reduced civic space and the illicit flow of small arms and light weapons, among other factors.” Conflict-related sexual violence – which includes assault, rape, forced marriage, trafficking, sexual slavery, forced sterilization, forced abortion other forms of sexual coercion – is used to instill fear, pain, suffering and censorship in its targets.
Attacks on female journalists have reached unprecedented levels. A recent UNFPA report noted that women journalists, human rights defenders, activists and leaders are disproportionately attacked, with public forums being used to threaten, harass and stalk, and to promote hate speech targeting them. “It’s chilling and sets a dangerous precedent for human rights violations,” said Reem Abdellatif, an Egyptian-American journalist who has endured abuse because of her profession. Hate speech has been recognized by the United Nations as a major threat to peace and human rights.
Data is crucial to allocate humanitarian aid. By the first week of March, UNFPA had provided a so-called “common operational dataset” to humanitarian partners.
Conflict and crisis exact a massive toll on women and girls. UNFPA shares the stories of five women - how their lives changed since fleeing Ukraine and how their new lives in Moldova unfold.
Akib Dahir, 27, arrived at the Gabi’as displacement camp with her eight children, after losing 180 goats and 15 camels to the drought. Her husband spends hours in the baking heat on an increasingly desperate hunt for pasture and water to keep their few remaining animals alive. “We are trying to save all we have,” she said. “The animals are almost worthless in the market. We can’t even feed our children.” The last three rainy seasons failed one after the other, blighting the lives and livelihoods of nearly 8 million people across and pushing eastern and southern areas of the country to the brink of famine. More than 286,000 people have been forced from their homes in search of survival as crops, livestock, and the hope of putting food on the table are all wiped out.
Menstruation is intrinsically related to human dignity. For millions, this most natural of the reproductive cycle functions can equate to abuse, stigma, missed opportunity and loss of dignity. To support menstrual health and hygiene, UNFPA has included thousands of kits as part of the humanitarian response to conflict and natural disasters. Menstrual Hygiene Day seeks to advance menstruation as a biological process and to eliminate feeling fear or shame or being exposed to more vulnerabilities. It also raises awareness of period poverty, or the inability to afford menstrual supplies.
Obstetric fistula is a devastating childbirth injury, which also results in stillbirth in 90 percent of cases. The encouraging news is that obstetric fistula is not only treatable but preventable. UNFPA leads efforts to End Fistula in more than 55 countries in prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. This year’s International Day to End Obstetric Fistula highlights the need for investment towards quality healthcare to empower communities. Obstetric fistula is not only a development and public health issue, but also a human rights issue, granting the right to health and a life of dignity.
Skilled health professionals and timely, quality emergency obstetric care can help prevent the devastating childbirth injury of obstetric fistula. Find out more about it at endfistula.org