State of World Population 2020

No. of pages: 164

Publication date: 10 July 2020

Author: UNFPA

State of World Population 2020

Against my will: defying the practices that harm women and girls and undermine equality



Harm is discrimination today and a trauma for a lifetime

Harmful practices against girls cause profound and lasting trauma, robbing them of their right to reach their potential in life.

  • Harmful practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation, are inflicted on girls by their families and propped up by discrimination and community norms.
    • This year, for example, 4.1 million girls are at risk of female genital mutilation.
    • One in five marriages today is to underage females.
  • One pernicious effect of preferring sons over daughters is a shocking deficit of 140 million females.
  • We’ve made progress in slowing the rate of some harmful practices, but the numbers of girls subjected to them is actually growing because of population growth.
  • The harmful practice of child marriage increases in times of hardship and crisis, even in humanitarian settings.


Only equal treatment can bring equal outcomes

We have to stop treating girls like commodities to be traded or objects to be controlled and afford girls the same rights and opportunities as boys.

  • Communities must stand for equal rights for girls so they can stay in school, prepare for employment, learn about their choices, and shape their own futures.
  • Governments must honor the international agreements they have signed to protect girls’ rights and reproductive choices and end female genital mutiliation and child marriage.
  • To end harmful practices, men need to use their privilege to raise the value of girls around the world and demand the equal treatment of girls and boys.
  • Economies and legal systems must guarantee every woman equal opportunities to build a decent life based on equality, autonomy, dignity and choice.


Respect. Protect. Fulfill. Three words that can bring real change and real results for women and girls

  • Respect:  We must foster respect for women and girls by changing entrenched cultural attitudes and practices that dehumanize and commoditize them. This means disrupting root causes of inequality and respecting girls’ autonomy.
  • Protect:  We must protect women and girls by enacting and enforcing laws against practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation, but also by changing attitudes and norms. Parents need to understand the impact of harm and take a stand against it.
  • Fulfill:  Governments must fulfill their obligations under human rights treaties that require elimination of female genital mutilation and child marriage.


COVID-19 threatens to thwart progress in ending harmful practices

  • The COVID-19 pandemic in interrupting programs to end female genital mutilation. As a result, an additional 2 million girls may be harmed over the next decade.
  • COVID-19 will disrupt efforts to end child marriage, potentially resulting in an additional 13 million child marriages between 2020 and 2030.
  • As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, the number of women unable to access family planning, facing unintended pregnancies, gender-based violence and other harmful practices could skyrocket in the months ahead.