Women from developing countries cannot have autonomy over their bodies on empty stomachs – An open letter to the United Nations

Alexander Opicho April 25, 2021
Poor women and children in Central African Republic being given food by WFP. Photo: Twitter/WFP West Africa

The curse of Breton Woods Institutions, the United Nations Organization and the Western Powers is their irritating habit of describing poverty and economic as well as social challenges of Africa, Asia, and South (Latin) America without offering a solution.

It is evident in the history of development economics that the Western Powers and the Breton Woods organizations have always perpetrated this irritating kind of communication about the poor world without making any effort to suggest a solution that is implementable in terms of pulling Africa, Asia and Latin America out of the mire of poverty.

Any keen observer will not miss inferring that the west derives sadomasochistic joy from the stand-offish description of poverty in the third world; and indeed it is true that the West and the UN have described Africa’s poverty for a century, but so far there is no feasible or user-friendly solution suggested by the West as a way of dealing with poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America. This observation is based on the recent UNFPA report that made an irritating statement about social problems of women in the third world by stating that, “Only half of women in developing world have body autonomy.”

The UNFPA report stated that “whether it’s sex, health care or using contraception, women in developing countries lack control over decisions affecting their bodies.” Yes, it is true. Women in Africa and other parts of the developing world lack choices over what happens with their own bodies, but does the UN have a good degree of moral authenticity to make public description of such preventable challenges that have been made unpreventable by dishonest political interactions across the world, a buck which stops at the table of the United Nations.

On April 14, 2021, UNFPA reported that half of women in 57 poor countries around the world are denied the freedom to decide on what to do with their own bodies. The report stated that women in the poor world don’t have autonomy of sex, contraception and health care. The report also stated that women in the poor world have no autonomy to prevent rape, forced sterilization, virginity tests and genital mutilation.

According to Natalia Kanem, the current head of the UNFPA’s sexual and reproductive health agency, “hundreds of millions of women and girls do not own their own bodies, their lives are governed by others, decision about their bodies are made by other people like partners, family members, society and government.” Natalia also reported that, “rape in the developing countries is not always prosecuted.”

In the report, Natalia further argued that COVID-19 pandemic has led to increasing sexual violence, more unintended pregnancies, and new barriers to health access, along with job and education losses in Africa and the developing world. Natalia’s UNFPA report also predicted that Africa and the developing world are going to experience an extra 13 million child marriages and another 2 million cases of female genital mutilation in the next decade as the pandemic stymies global efforts to end both practices.

However, Natalia’s UNFPA report praised in a glorious tone countries like Sweden, Uruguay, Cambodia, Finland and the Netherlands for achieving good level of gender equality. UNFPA praised governments of these countries for having had lead role to play by fulfilling obligations under human rights treaties, as well as altering social, political, institutional and economic structures that reinforce gender inequalities.

In a nutshell, the UNFPA report has just described, though by basing on very shaky evidence, how women in Africa and the developing world are prone to rape, FGM, early marriage, domestic violence, virginity test, forced abortion and other forms of gender-based oppression but it has not suggested any solution or institutional procedure that can be followed to prevent such kind of hostilities to the women of the poor world.

Critical outlook points out that UNFPA was also supposed to give a report on the social, economic and physical challenges of migrant women in America, Europe and other developed countries. And at the same time, UNFPA is also obliged to give us a reflexive report on the suffering of African women in countries like Congo as nothing else but the undoing of the UN and the developed world.  Maybe this article must also mention that poverty is at the center of gender based autonomy of women in Africa, yet poverty in Africa has been reinforced by unstable security. And it is also indubitable that the recurrent wars and endemic poverty in Africa are a reflex of the political behavior of the UN and the Western powers on the global stage. 

No one can doubt factual decorum in the argument that Poverty in Africa was solvable, but Western powers chose to play tricks with it. This is why China has been embraced after displaying evidence of being capable to help Africa fight poverty through improving the quality of infrastructures in Rural Africa. One good with China is that it has never wasted time describing poverty in Africa, but it has always been involved in practical warfighting poverty in Africa through building roads, hospitals, schools, dams, gabions, boreholes, irrigation infrastructures and electrical power generating infrastructures and so on. At least this will help African women to access food with dignity, a substructure on which they can base autonomy to make choices about their bodies. Otherwise, it is not easy for a woman to have autonomy of choices in relation to her body when she is operating on an empty stomach.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: April 25, 2021


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