You are here

PRESS RELEASE: Bodily autonomy, a fundamental right of women and girls in Thailand and globally

Landmark UNFPA report is a rallying cry for countries and societies to strengthen rights and choices for all. Thailand showcases integrated mechanism in upholding bodily autonomy and gender equality for adolescent girls.

 

Nearly half of women in 57 developing countries are denied the right to decide whether or not to have sex with their partners, use contraception or seek health care – egregious violations of bodily autonomy which should be a fundamental right for all. Those are among the key findings contained within My Body is My Own: Claiming the right to autonomy and self-determination, the 2021 State of World Population flagship report from UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, and the first-ever UN report focusing on bodily autonomy.

 

The report’s Asia-Pacific launch was marked via an online event in Bangkok on 20 May, with the participation of noted advocates and activists from across Asia-Pacific including Thailand, through the auspices of the Embassy of France in Thailand, in partnership with the Embassy of Mexico in Thailand and the UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, key partners heading the Generation Equality Forum (GEF). The Forum, a civil society centred global gathering for gender equality, is convened by UN Women and co-hosted by the governments of France and Mexico. UNFPA co-leads and France is part of the GEF Action Coalition on Bodily Autonomy.

 

“Bodily autonomy and integrity - the power to make our own choices about our own bodies - are grounded in gender equality and human rights, and are necessary for women’s empowerment and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” noted Bjorn Andersson, UNFPA Asia-Pacific Regional Director. “Denying millions of people, including women and girls, their empowerment, compromises not only individual health and wellbeing but hinders the development of entire societies and countries.”

 

“We will continue to advocate strongly on these issues by deploying a rights-based approach because this topic is not just about health”, French Ambassador to Thailand H.E. Thierry Mathou highlighted. “There can be no equality between individuals without the right to bodily autonomy and self-determination, and in this regard I would like to commend the valuable report of UNFPA in promoting understanding and progress on these rights.”

 

Through its groundbreaking report, UNFPA is measuring both women’s power to make their own decisions about their bodies and the extent to which laws in countries support or interfere with a woman’s right to make these decisions.

 

In countries where data are available:

  • Only 55 per cent of women are fully empowered to make choices over health care, contraception and the ability to say yes or no to sex.
  • Only 75 per cent of countries legally ensure full, equal access to contraception.
  • Only about 56 per cent of countries have laws and policies supporting comprehensive sexuality education.

 

The data show a strong link between decision-making power and higher levels of education. The report also documents many other ways that bodily autonomy 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.
  • Girls and boys with disabilities are nearly three times more likely to be subjected to sexual violence, with girls at the greatest risk.

 

Real solutions, the report finds, must take into account the needs and experiences of those affected, as, for example, Thailand has done in addressing the long-running challenge of adolescent pregnancy. With the enactment of the Act for the Prevention and Solution of Adolescent Pregnancy in 2016, Thailand has delivered an integrated mechanism to ensure the rights of sexual and reproductive health for young people. The Act stipulated rights for adolescents to harness their own bodily autonomy with the lens of gender equality including the right to make a decision by him/herself, the right to information and knowledge, right to reproductive health service,

right to confidentiality and privacy, and right to social welfare provision, that are equal and non-discriminative.

 

In the discussion session on adolescent pregnancy in Thailand moderated by Maria Holtsberg, Regional Humanitarian and Disaster Risk Reduction Advisor, UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, panelists from the government and civil society shared the good practices how Thailand is dealing the issue on the basis of rights and gender equality.

 

“Thailand has an important legal framework, the Act for the Prevention and Solution of Adolescent Pregnancy 2016, to promote the integrated mechanism between ministries and with all stakeholders including young people to ensure providing sexual and reproductive health services for all women of reproductive age including adolescent girls. The recent legal amendment allows safe abortion of the pregnancy up to 12 weeks. The innovative ‘Teen Club’ Line official is also established to provide a real-time channel for young people to seek immediate sexual and reproductive health consultations and services. This mechanism aims to strengthen adolescent girls to have strong health literacy so they can avoid risks and harness their bodily autonomy,” said Dr. Manus Ramkiattisak (M.D.), Deputy Director of the Bureau of Reproductive Health, Department of Health, Ministry of Public Health of Thailand as the secretary of the Act

 

“The leverage point of solving the adolescent pregnancy is that Youth Council members and networks are established at all levels in Thailand—national, district and sub-district. They are peer advocates for young people to raise awareness of adolescents’ rights for sexual and reproductive health, education and social welfare services stipulated under Section 5 of the Act for the Prevention and Solution of Adolescent Pregnancy 2016. They also mobilise voices of young people and formulate them into policy recommendations as a constructive monitoring mechanism for friendly services to young people,” said Yothin Thongpawa, President, Child and Youth Council of Thailand and member of the National Committee of the Adolescent Pregnancy Act.

 

From the point of view of an academic working closely with ethnic teen mothers, Ms. Prapatsorn Misa, Shoklo Malaria Research Unit, Mahidol University, in collaboration with the French Embassy in Thailand under the project of Health Systems Strengthening for marginalized and undocumented migrants in Tak Province: a focus on sexual and reproductive health for non-Thai young girls, said, “Statistics show that the proportion of pregnant non-Thai adolescent girls has increased compared to the age group above (20-24 years). The key to ensure that these ethnic young girls can manage their bodily autonomy is to empower them to be able make decisions about their body and future. Changing the norms of not talking about sex and reproductive health is a priority.”

 

“The Thai government and civil society came together, including the crucial participation of young persons, to work together under this landmark legislation aimed at tackling adolescent pregnancy. The law aims to strengthen adolescents’ rights including increased access to adolescent sexual and reproductive health services and information and continuing education for adolescent mothers to ensure their socioeconomic prospects. UNFPA applauds Thailand for this legal framework, mechanism and partnership upholding bodily autonomy for all young people especially adolescent girls,” said Kwabena Asante-Ntiamoah, UNFPA Country Director a.i. in Thailand, in the closing remarks of the launch.

 

The denial of bodily autonomy is a violation of women’s and girls’ fundamental human rights as envisaged under the 1994 ICPD Programme of Action, the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals under which clear targets on bodily autonomy and integrity are specified.

 

“Because bodily autonomy and integrity influence so many aspects of health as well a decent, dignified life, progress in realizing them will lead not just to achieving sexual and reproductive health and the Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality, but many of the other Goals as well,” said Mohammad Naciri, UN Women Asia-Pacific Regional Director. “This includes SDGs related to promoting health, reducing inequalities and ending poverty. All of these are interlinked, a key message conveyed through the Generation Equality platform in this, the Decade of Action toward achieving the 2030 Agenda and its vision of leaving no one behind.”

 

*The online launch of the UNFPA 2021 State of World Population Report, followed by a UN Women-moderated discussion on addressing adolescent pregnancy in Thailand with multiple stakeholders including UNFPA and UNICEF, can be accessed at: YouTube.com/UNFPAAsia and Facebook.com/UNWomenAsia   Further information, please contact: sumalnop@unfpa.org ; +66 819 175 602