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Unchecked inequality and failure to protect the rights of poorest women could undermine the world’s development goals, new UNFPA report warns


  • UNFPA estimates that 14% of pregnancies in Mongolia are unwanted;
  • From 2012-2015, 9.7% of preventable maternal deaths were due to unsafe abortions;

ULAANBAATAR – Unless inequality is urgently tackled and the poorest women empowered to make their own decisions about their lives, countries could face economic instability and an unravelling of social cohesion, according the The State of World Population 2017, published late last month by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

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.”

Failure to provide reproductive health services, including family planning, to the poorest women can weaken economies and sabotage progress towards the number one sustainable development goal, to eliminate poverty.

In Mongolia, UNFPA believes that the rise in poverty and the unmet need for family planning go hand-in-hand.

“Nearly one in three people in Mongolia fall below the poverty line. We also estimate that 14% of all pregnancies in Mongolia are unwanted, with even more unplanned,” explains Naomi Kitahara, UNFPA Representative. “This data tells us that women are unable to access contraceptives and essential information. As a result, poorer women end up in a cycle of poverty from which they cannot escape.”

Economic inequality reinforces and is reinforced by other inequalities, including those in women’s health, where only a privileged few are able to control their fertility.

“When women are able to control their fertility, they can finish their education, enter the paid labour force and gain more economic power,” says Kitahara.

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

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.

“In Mongolia, if we want to tackle economic inequality, we must start by addressing the unmet need for family planning – creating an environment where women can plan the timing, spacing, and number of children they wish to have,” Kitahara says. “By tackling inequalities and tearing down social, institutional and other barriers, women will be able to realize their full potential.”

The UNFPA report recommends focusing on the furthest behind first, in line with the United Nations blueprint for achieving sustainable development and inclusive societies by 2030. 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.”