Press Release

“Against my will”: The State of World Population 2020 is a call to end practices that harm women and girls

30 June 2020

30 June 2020, NUR-SULTAN - Every year, millions of girls around the world are subjected to practices that harm them physically and emotionally, according to the State of World Population 2020, released today around the world by UNFPA, the United Nations reproductive health agency.

The online regional launch of the State of World Population 2020 has taken place today. The event involved Alanna Armitage, Regional Director for UNFPA Eastern Europe & Central Asia; Prof. Christophe Z. Guilmoto from University of Paris, Research Institute for Development; Nesime Salioska, Roma Rights Activist from North Macedonia; Lela Akiashvili, Adviser to Prime Minister of Georgia on Human Rights & Gender Equality, Akmarzhan Kusherbayeva (KALIYA), Singer and Activist from Kazakhstan, and Orkhan Kerimov, Endorphin Advertising Agency from Azerbaijan.

KALIYA’s song “Her Future” (“Қыз тағдыры”) will be shown at the event.

Child marriages and son preference are among the 19 harmful practices discussed in the report, with many countries being challenged by this problem to a greater or lesser extent. In the whole world 33,000 girls under the age of 18 will be forced into marriage today, usually to much older men.

“Kazakhstan is not immune to the problem of child marriages, although it is on the decline overall. Nonetheless, over the past five years in Kazakhstan, on average around 1,200 girls under the age of 18 married each year,” said UNFPA National Coordinator on Population, Development and Gender Gaziza Moldakulova. “When an underage girl gets married her entire future is undermined: she usually has to drop out of school, which means that she is unlikely to get a good job in future and is usually economically dependent on her spouse, which makes her vulnerable to abuse. Moreover, a married girl will often get pregnant right away and this might lead to birth complications because the girl’s body isn’t yet ready for childbearing.”

Different value associated with boys and girls often leads to son preference common in many parts of the world. Last year UNFPA partnered with Kazakhstan’s famous filmmaker Katerina Suvorova and singer, activist and voice of UNFPA in Kazakhstan Akmarzhan Kusherbayeva (KALIYA) to produce a teaser for the future documentary film called “QyzBolsyn”. The film aims to explore the lives of women and girls named at birth “Ulbolsyn” (“May it be a Boy”) meaning the preference for the birth of a son. Such tradition is not unique to Kazakhstan and exists in other countries of Central Asia and various regions of the world as well.

“We must foster respect for women and girls by changing entrenched attitudes and treating girls equally with boys. Only equal treatment can bring equal outcomes. We as influencers have a responsibility to raise debates and challenge beliefs. Someone will raise the topic of gender equality and the importance of equal valuing of boys and girls in music, other will do so in films or novels. So, together we will make the world a better place for everyone irrespective of their gender,” says Akmarzhan Kusherbayeva. “Three years ago I released a song “Her Future”, which turned into a social project and aims to stand for girls’ rights such as the prevention of adolescent pregnancies, child marriages, and child abandonment. I am happy that the song is part of the regional UNFPA event dedicated to the launch of the State of World Population 2020 report focusing on ending harmful practices against women and girls.”

While progress has been made in ending some harmful practices worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to reverse gains. A recent analysis revealed that if services and programmes remain shuttered for six months, an additional 13 million girls may be forced into marriage between now and 2030.

“The pandemic puts more girls at risk and threatens to undermine the progress that has been made,” says UNFPA Representative for Kazakhstan Giulia Vallese. “We must redouble our efforts to ensure that girls everywhere are fully able to enjoy their rights, make choices about their lives and their bodies.”

For media and interview enquiries, please contact:

Dina Teltayeva +7 701 765 40 10 (teltayeva@unfpa.org)