World Bank's includes central focus on women's sexual and reproductive health and rights

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The International Planned Parenthood Federation welcomes the latest report by the World Bank, ‘Voice and Agency: empowering women and girls for shared prosperity’ which includes a central chapter on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The World Bank’s latest report includes new analyses of women’s ability to make choices about their sexuality and finds that many women and girls lack access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. The report underlines that sexual and reproductive autonomy are intertwined with women’s agency and opportunities in life more broadly and can have consequences on a broad set of development outcomes.

IPPF welcomes the Bank’s analysis that a multi-pronged approach is required to tackle structural inequalities that limit women’s voice and agency. In particular, the Bank’s report examines the interrelation between entrenched social norms and legal barriers in limiting women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. 

The report reiterates what we already know: agency constraints are linked to other forms of disadvantage, such as a lack of education and poverty. For example, delays in marriage are associated with greater educational achievement and lower fertility which can, in turn, increase women’s life expectancy and has benefits for children’s health and education. Girls living in poorer households are twice as likely to marry before the age of 18 as girls from higher income households.

IPPF welcomes the Bank’s emphasis that progressive laws on abortion, when implemented effectively, can save women’s lives by broaden their choices in terms of unintended pregnancy and can minimize their risk of dying from an unsafe procedure.

IPPF supports the Bank’s emphasis on data collection and disaggregation, in particular that to measure progress and compare women’s agency across countries, including women’s control over their sexual and reproductive health and rights, more and better data and new measures are needed.

In terms of expanding women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights, IPPF maintains that all programmatic responses must be founded in a rights based approach.

Gender equality is clearly a priority for the Bank as demonstrated in its Voice and Agency report, the World Development Report 2012 on Gender Equality and Development, the launch of the Bank’s extensive gender data portal, and the special theme of gender forming a focus for the International Development Association rounds 16 and 17. IPPF urges the Bank to continue to strengthen its analysis of sexual and reproductive health and rights and to mainstream these issues across both its gender and health divisions.  This could go some way towards keeping the area of sexual and reproductive health and rights visible and joined up within both the Bank’s health and gender portfolios.

The Bank has clearly identified sexual and reproductive health and rights as important ends in themselves and having valuable benefits for women’s own health, nutrition, education, and livelihoods and for the well-being of their children, and having a significant impact on ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity. IPPF calls on the Bank to continue to champion sexual and reproductive health in other processes – such as achieving the Millennium Development Goals and establishing the post-2015 framework – in order to ensure focus and investment in reproductive health up to and beyond 2015.

IPPF urges the Bank to continue to operationalise its commitment to expanding women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights through its current Reproductive Health Action Plan and by ensuring that it has a clear strategy in place to replace the Reproductive Health Action Plan when it expires in 2015. Continued investment in access to sexual and reproductive health services, information and reproductive health commodities is vital if we are to accelerate progress on Millennium Development Goal 5, where least progress has been made.

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