2021 State of World Population

14 April 2021

Analysis of evidentiary value

State of the World Pop­u­la­tion is the United Nations Pop­u­la­tion Fund (UNFPA)’s flag­ship report. UNFPA is the UN’s main sex­ual and repro­duc­tive health agency oper­at­ing in over 150 coun­tries. It is one of four spe­cialised agen­cies over­seen by the UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral, head of the UN sys­tem, and its board is com­posed of rep­re­sen­ta­tives of 36 Mem­ber States. The agency also has strate­gic part­ner­ships with 138 uni­ver­si­ties around the world. UNFPA’s reports often take a human rights approach; among the recip­i­ents of its reports is the Office of the High Com­mis­sioner for Human Rights.

UNFPA’s Exec­u­tive Direc­tor at the time of this report’s release–Dr. Natalia Kanem–con­cur­rently served as the UN Under-Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral, the third-high­est posi­tion in the UN sys­tem.

The theme of the 2021 State of World Pop­u­la­tion Report is “My Body is my Own: Claim­ing the Right to Auton­omy and Self-Deter­mi­na­tion.” Its data were drawn from the UN Depart­ment of Eco­nomic and Social Affairs, the United Nations Edu­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Orga­ni­za­tion and the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion.

Used as precedent

reproductive rights

When women and ado­les­cent girls have more choice in sex­ual and repro­duc­tive health care, mul­ti­ple pos­i­tive health out­comes result, includ­ing greater under­stand­ing of how to pre­vent HIV, and a greater like­li­hood of hav­ing the num­ber of pre­na­tal vis­its rec­om­mended by the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion as well as giv­ing birth with the help of a doc­tor, nurse or mid­wife.

bodily autonomy and integrity

Fail­ures to uphold bod­ily auton­omy thus result first and fore­most in pro­found losses for indi­vid­ual women and girls. But they also add up to broader deficits, poten­tially depress­ing eco­nomic pro­duc­tiv­ity, under­cut­ting valu­able skills, and impos­ing extra costs for health-care and judi­cial ser­vices, includ­ing for respond­ing to vio­lence against women and girls.

comprehensive sexuality education

Oppo­nents of com­pre­hen­sive sex­u­al­ity edu­ca­tion often con­tend that it pro­motes sex­ual activ­ity, yet stud­ies show that this is incor­rect. Rather, evi­dence indi­cates that this edu­ca­tion, when pro­vided to inter­na­tional stan­dards, improves young peo­ple’s knowl­edge and con­sti­tutes a cru­cial and cost-effec­tive strat­egy for pre­vent­ing unin­tended preg­nancy and sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted infec­tions, includ­ing HIV. Some stud­ies show it may actu­ally help delay ado­les­cents’ sex­ual debut.

sexual rights

Widow inher­i­tance, for exam­ple, requires a woman to engage in sex­ual rela­tions with the man who “inher­its” her, regard­less of how many sex­ual part­ners he may have had in the past, increas­ing the risk of HIV trans­mis­sion.


Women expe­ri­enc­ing abuse in mar­riage are one-and-a-half to three times more likely to test pos­i­tive for HIV and two to four times more likely to report another sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted infec­tion.

negative legal determinants

A recent report pointed out that puni­tive legal envi­ron­ments, com­bined with stigma, dis­crim­i­na­tion and high lev­els of vio­lence, placed gay men and other men who have sex with men at high risk of HIV infec­tion because they are dri­ven under­ground out of fear of pros­e­cu­tion or other neg­a­tive con­se­quences. As a result, they do not receive appro­pri­ate health edu­ca­tion, and are reluc­tant to seek health-care ser­vices, test­ing and treat­ment.For exam­ple, where peo­ple’s iden­ti­ties or pro­fes­sions might be crim­i­nal­ized, such as trans­gen­der peo­ple or sex work­ers, stigma and dis­crim­i­na­tion in health facil­i­ties is often known to be high, act­ing as a bar­rier to access to ser­vices that can play a role in pro­tect­ing bod­ily auton­omy.