Let’s Talk About Sex – and Why Power Matters

Natalia Kanem

By Dr. Natalia Kanem

Every year on World Population Day (July 11), UNFPA receives
queries from journalists about the total number of people around
the world. Numbers are indeed important because they help
governments develop policies that respond to evolving needs for
services such as education and health.

While global population is currently around 7.7 billion, what is
perhaps more important than the numbers is the bigger story they
tell–a story about sex: who has it, when they have it and under
what circumstances. It is also a story about agency.

Oscar Wilde once said, “Everything in the world is about sex
except sex. Sex is about power.” Whether a woman or teenage girl
has the power to decide about sexual relations will have a profound
impact on her life.

UNFPA statistics from 51 countries show that only three in five
married women make their own decisions about intimacy with their
partner, use of contraception, and their healthcare. In some of the
least developed countries, it is only 1 in 14 women who have such

Lack of agency, or power, in these areas can translate into
forced sex, unintended pregnancy, teenage pregnancy, and families
that are larger than a woman wants. And with these consequences can
come long-term harm to a woman’s health and the denial of her

This is what a lack of agency meant for one young woman in
Burundi: Charlotte was 17 when she was forced to marry and leave
school, closing out opportunities for higher education, employment
and economic independence.

Her husband deserted her after she became pregnant, and
Charlotte was left to manage serious complications during delivery
by herself. In the end, she lost her baby and fell into a coma for
four days.

Unfortunately, she developed an obstetric fistula, a normally
preventable condition, that caused urinary and fecal incontinence.
Charlotte’s father then forced her to live in a brick hole in
their backyard for nine years because he couldn’t bear the

Thanks to UNFPA, Charlotte finally got the surgery she needed,
but she will never get back the nine years she lost. A lack of
agency early in life kicked off a calamitous chain of events that
robbed her of her dignity and health and derailed her future.

Lack of agency in sex is often linked to child marriage. Every
day, 33,000 girls become brides against their will and in violation
of their rights. About 95 per cent of teenage births occur in
developing countries, and 9 in 10 of these births occur within a
marriage or union.

Millions of girls around the world pay a high price every day
due to lack of access to comprehensive sexuality education and
taboos around speaking openly about sexual and reproductive

There are 214 million women in developing countries who want to
prevent a pregnancy but are not using contraception. Without family
planning information and services, these women lack the power to
make their own decisions about whether, when or how often to become

And this amounts to a violation of their rights affirmed through
international agreements and resolutions dating back as far as

We have ample evidence of how a lack of agency negatively
impacts a woman’s health and well-being. But there is also
abundant evidence of an economic impact as well.

Societies where women have the power to make decisions about the
timing and spacing of pregnancies and in other aspects of their
lives also tend to be more prosperous, equitable and resilient.

Twenty-five years ago, at the International Conference for
Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, 179 governments
recognized the importance of agency in sexual relations and
promised to empower women and girls in every aspect of life to
enable them to chart their own futures.

Central to the ICPD’s Programme of Action was a commitment to
achieve universal sexual and reproductive health and to protect
every woman’s right to make her own decisions about the timing
and spacing of pregnancies.

Since then, the world has made impressive gains in bolstering
agency, particularly through expanding access to contraception.
Still, there are hundreds of millions of women and teenage girls
who have been left behind, especially in poor, rural or
marginalized communities.

We cannot accept defeat. We must take action to fulfill the
commitments made at the ICPD and achieve the world we imagined: one
where every pregnancy is wanted, where people choose freely whom to
marry as adults, where no one is subjected to gender-based
violence, and all girls are protected from violence and the harm
caused by practices such as female genital mutilation–a world
where agency, especially when it comes to sex, is a reality for

This world can be a reality, but it requires more than hope. It
demands conviction, courage, partnership and dedication from us
all. That’s why this November, UNFPA and the governments of Kenya
and Denmark are co-convening the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 to finish
the job we started in 1994.

On this World Population Day, I call on all governments to join
us in Nairobi, to look beyond the numbers, and to breathe new life
into the global movement to achieve the world we imagine.

The post Let’s
Talk About Sex – and Why Power Matters
appeared first on
Inter Press Service.


Dr Natalia Kanem is Executive Director of the
UN Population Fund (UNFPA)

The post Let’s
Talk About Sex – and Why Power Matters
appeared first on
Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Let’s Talk About Sex – and Why Power Matters