Millions of people are denied their right to say no to sex, or yes to the choice of a partner in marriage, or to the right moment to have a child.

Depriving women and girls of bodily autonomy causes and reinforces inequalities and violence, all of which arise from gender discrimination.

By contrast, when women and girls can make the most fundamental choices about their bodies, they not only gain in terms of autonomy, but also through advances in health and education, income and safety. These add up to a world of greater justice and human well-being.

The ‘State of World Population’, a latest and first of its kind report by UNFPA highlights why bodily autonomy is a universal right that must be upheld.

Nearly half of the women in 57 countries, including Nepal, are denied the right to decide whether to have sex with their partners, use contraception or seek health care, according to the report.

The report released on Wednesday focuses on body autonomy — the power to make choices about one’s body without fear of violence or having someone else decide for him/her.

Nepal has a highly patriarchal society and acute gender disparities. To counteract these patterns and ensure that substantial recent legal reforms supporting gender equality would actually be implemented, it has proactively established strong mechanisms for enforcement and accountability.

These have included a National Women’s Commission mandated by the Constitution to regularly investigate issues related to women and the law.

Steps to increase the number of women police officers have encompassed establishing units of women officers in all 77 districts of the country. Since doing so, reporting of domestic violence cases has increased more than eight-fold.

As per the report, Nepal witnesses a combination of pressure to give birth soon after marriage, limited autonomy, and little knowledge about reproductive health issues, thereby making young married girls vulnerable to high-risk pregnancies.

The report reveals how serious many of the shortfalls in bodily autonomy are; many have worsened under the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Right now, for instance, record numbers of women and girls are at risk of gender-based violence and harmful practices such as early marriage.

Besides the violation to bodily autonomy, child marriage impinges on other human rights, such as the right to education.

Differential education rates between genders is one of the major impediments to full gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, and child marriage and early childbearing are significant obstacles to ensuring educational, employment and other economic opportunities for girls and young women, the report says.