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In April this year, Aizada Kanatbekova, a young woman of 27 years, was abducted by a group of
men in broad daylight as she walked on the street in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. The men
forced her into a car and drove away with her. Two days later, she was found in the car. She had
been strangled to death.

The horrific murder of Aizada Kanatbekova is an example of the most extreme form of violation
of bodily autonomy and bodily integrity. But, all around the world, including in Eastern Europe
and Central Asia, women and girls are not in control over their bodies and their lives.
Globally, too many women and girls are subjected to brutal practices such as female genital
mutilation, virginity testing and rape with impunity. In the countries where we have data, nearly
half of women lack the power to make their own decisions about whether to have sex with their
partner, whether to use contraception and whether to see a doctor.
In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the share of women who aren’t allowed to make decisions in
at least one of these areas is generally lower, but is still considerable. 19 per cent in Ukraine, 23
per cent in Kyrgyzstan, 31 per cent in Albania, and 34 per cent in Armenia. In Tajikistan the
figures are far higher; 67 per cent of women can’t make autonomous decisions on these
fundamental issues.

Bodily autonomy is a foundation of gender equality and for the enjoyment of all human
rights—including the right to health and the right to live free from violence—and dismantling
gender inequalities in social norms and practice is key. Dozens of countries do not even
acknowledge that non-consensual sex between married spouses is rape.
Girls and boys need empowerment—to claim their rights to make healthy decisions and engage
in healthy and safe behaviours. Laws that protect women from violations of their rights,
including ending child marriage and gender-based violence, must be enforced.
More men must become allies. Many more men should commit to uprooting gender inequality
and all forms of discrimination and promote bodily autonomy. At the same time, we need to
support paternity and parental leave policies to encourage men to participate in caregiving.

While this is a bold goal, gender equality is also an internationally agreed one, as the fifth
Sustainable Development Goal, and as the purpose of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for
Action, the twenty-fifth anniversary of which we are observing in 2021.
All countries can do more to achieve gender equality since no country is there yet. Governments
have a lead role to play in reaching that goal. By fulfilling their obligations under human rights
treaties, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against
Women, or CEDAW, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, governments can alter the
social, political, institutional and economic structures that reinforce and thrive on gender-unequal

But we must look beyond obligations and towards opportunities: A woman, who has control over
her body, is more likely to be empowered in other spheres of her life. She gains not only in terms
of autonomy, but also through advances in health, education, income and safety. She is more
likely to thrive, and so is her family.
At UNFPA, we know that communities and countries flourish only when all women are
empowered to make their own informed decisions about their bodies and lives. As a co-leader of
the Action Coalition on Bodily Autonomy and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
which is convening at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris this week, UNFPA champions the
right to sexual and reproductive health and care including, family planning, advocating for safe
birth and maternal health, eradicating gender-based violence and harmful practices and endorsing
comprehensive sexuality education.

We empower women to govern their own bodies by providing a full range of reproductive health
services and supporting education about their bodies and their rights. We help men become
champions of gender equality, take equal responsibility for parenting, and learn to communicate
about sexual and reproductive health. We empower women and girls and men and boys to adopt
healthy behaviours and prepare for healthy relationships. We help governments measure and
track autonomy so they can monitor progress and fulfil their human rights obligations.
Across the region, governments, civil society and individuals are stepping up to make bodily
autonomy a reality for all. The government of North Macedonia, for example, has championed
laws that strengthen gender equality and protections against gender-based violence, and is co-
leading the global Action Coalition on Bodily Autonomy.
Action is vital so that women and girls throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia—women
like Aizada Kanatbekova in Bishkek—can walk along a street without fear of abuse, attack,
abduction or murder. And help us realize a world of greater justice and human well-being, which
benefits us all.



Alanna Armitage is the Director of UNFPA’s Regional Office for Eastern Europe and Central