Statement of Support of the UN Philippines Resident Coordinator at the Launch of the State of the World Population Report 2021 in the Philippines

Mr. Gustavo Gonzalez says, "We have to ensure that women and girls are able to make informed decisions about their reproductive health."

I am delighted to join you today for the launch of the State of the World Population Report 2021 in the Philippines.

As we see, every year, the United Nations Population Fund -  one of our key members of the UNCT- releases this report introducing global issues impacting on population and development, as well as on the lives of women and girls …  all over the world.

These annual reports are the results of a close partnership between UNFP and its partners at country level. So I would like to thank and congratulate the Commission on Population and Development and the National Economic Development Authority for this sustained partnership with UNFPA and your trust in the UN.

My special thanks to UNFPA Philippines and its new Representative for bringing us together to better understand bodily autonomy as a fundamental human right and manifestation of women’s empowerment.

“Bodily autonomy” simply means that every person has the right to have autonomy over her or his own body…. And yet, 25 years after the International Conference on Population and Development, for many women and girls around the world, bodily autonomy still needs to be defined, still needs to be claimed, and fought for.

Let me just share with you two stories. The one of Laura and Taya,  who are both adolescent mothers.

For Laura and Taya, they never had a chance to make decisions that involve their own body.

In Laura’s case, her partner planned to get her pregnant without her consent. While for Taya’s case, her marriage and eventual pregnancy has been decided for her by their families … through the acceptance of a dowry.

Both of them have to live with the implications and risks of being a teenage mother: which includes health risks; as well as lost opportunities in education and income.

What is very clear in these stories is that Laura and Taya were not able to realize their human right to bodily autonomy.

These stories -in fact- are much more common that we might think. This is a global problem where the power to make decisions is taken away from girls and women because of their gender and their age.

One implication of the lack of bodily autonomy is adolescent pregnancy. In a study conducted by the UNFPA, it is estimated that the Philippines loses 33 billion pesos per year because of lost opportunities as a result of adolescent pregnancy. Young mothers who are not able to complete high school and take higher levels of education may reduce their chances of getting a good paying job in the future. Teenage mothers, including their babies, are also at higher risk of death during childbirth.

Leave no one behind -as you know- is the core principle of the UN and member states to drive an inclusive, equitable and sustainable development process. In the Philippines, the United Nations Country Team has recently revised and updated its cooperation framework under the Leave No One Behind lens.

We have today a robust roadmap – we call it “the Socioeconomic and Peacebuilding Framework” – to ensure that UN’s support to the Philippines is aligned with national priorities and particularly the COVID-19 recovery.

The updated framework puts a particular emphasis on girls and women as well as on universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights

In this context, and building on progress made by the Philippines with its RPRH law, we would like to further invest on the required policies and programs to make sure that no one is left behind. Especially young people.

As such, we need to take action on the following:

Number one, we need to acknowledge the capacity of young people to make decisions that involve their bodies and lives. And we have to provide the required support to enable bodily autonomy.

Number two, we need to ensure that young people are able to freely access reproductive health services;

Number three, we need to strengthen the implementation of a Comprehensive Sexuality Education Program. The United Nations remains ready to jointly work with country’s financial planners and legislators to ensure that there is funding for this crucial program.

Bodily autonomy -as it was highlighted in the present UNFPA report- is a human right. And if we truly believe that human rights are inalienable and universal, we have to ensure that women and girls are able to make informed decisions about their reproductive health. This is our development challenge.

Maraming Salamat Po

Speech by
Gustavo González
Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator
Gustavo Gonzalez
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Population Fund