The study titled "My Body is My Own" lists attacks on women in 57 countries, ranging from rape to forced sterilisation to virginity tests and genital mutilation.

Demonstrators hold placards during a rally for women's rights and safety, following the murder of Sarah Everard, in Parliament Square, London, Britain, April 3, 2021.
Demonstrators hold placards during a rally for women's rights and safety, following the murder of Sarah Everard, in Parliament Square, London, Britain, April 3, 2021. (Reuters)

Nearly half the women in 57 countries around the world have been facing restrictions on what they can do with their bodies, such as have sex, use contraception or seek health care, the UN said in a report.

The study that was released on Wednesday and titled "My Body is My Own" lists attacks on women in 57 countries, ranging from rape to forced sterilisation to virginity tests and genital mutilation.

"This lack of bodily autonomy has massive implications beyond the profound harms to individual women and girls: potentially depressing economic productivity, undercutting skills, and resulting in extra costs to health care and judicial systems," the UN population fund said in a statement.

The study said only 56 percent of the countries examined in the report have laws or policies providing for thorough sex education.

"The fact that nearly half of women still cannot make their own decisions about whether or not to have sex, use contraception or seek health care should outrage us all," said UNFPA director Natalia Kanem.

"The right to autonomy over our bodies means we must have the power and agency to make choices without fear of violence or having someone else decide for us,"

"In essence, hundreds of millions of women and girls do not own their own bodies. Their lives are governed by others," Kanem said.

READ MORE: One-third of all women experience sexual or physical violence

Women in Africa

Women in sub-Saharan Africa, South and Central Asia are least likely to have control over their bodies, such as being able to refuse sex with a partner or accessing sexual healthcare without needing permission from a male relative, UNFPA said.

In places including Mali, Niger and Senegal, only 10 percent of women had "bodily autonomy", said the report, which analysed multiple datasets on gender equality, sexual health and access to contraception in 57 countries.

Kanem said social taboos around sex and entrenched patriarchy prevented women and girls from having any say, since male relatives tended to have power over women's choices.

"Gender inequality is the most insidious and pervasive impediment to bodily autonomy. It starts from the cradle," Kanem, a paediatrician and epidemiologist, told reporters in an online media briefing.

"Gender unequal norms and attitudes lead to power imbalances that restrict women's decision-making ... (driving) the expectation that women and girls will yield to others in all aspects of their lives."

Kanem added that the coronavirus pandemic had worsened existing inequalities for women and girls.

"What was previously bad is now worse with the Covid-19 pandemic which has resulted in increasing sexual violence, more unintended pregnancies, and new barriers to health access along with job and education losses."

READ MORE: Ethiopia: Rapes occurred 'without a doubt' in conflict-hit Tigray

Surge in domestic violence

UNFPA said last April that global lockdowns could lead to a 20 percent surge in domestic violence as victims remained trapped at home with their abusers.

Researchers also predicted there could be an extra 13 million child marriages and another 2 million cases of FGM in the next decade as the pandemic stymies global efforts to end both practices.

Deepening poverty caused by a global recession could also drive more families to marry off their daughters early, UNFPA said.

Despite such setbacks, a World Bank report in February said 27 countries reformed laws or regulations to give women more economic equality with men in 2019-20. 

The report lists 20 countries or territories in which it says there are laws that allow a rapist to marry the victim so as to escape criminal charges.

It also listed 43 countries that do not have laws governing rape in married couples and says more than 30 countries impose restrictions on women's movements outside their home.

READ MORE: UN blacklists 52 groups for using sexual violence as war tactic

Source: TRTWorld and agencies