Bodily autonomy and reproductive health

Image of paper silhouette figures depicting a family (a woman, a man and two children)
Image of paper silhouette figures symbolising a family

Being able to take one's own decisions autonomously and free of coercion with regard to all matters concerning one's body, sex and sexuality, and family planning is an important human right. All people have a right to physical integrity, and every pregnant woman has a right to safe pregnancy and childbirth. Every child has a right to a healthy start to life, with medical attention. All people have the right to decide for themselves whether, when and with whom they would like to have a relationship, or have children. And everyone has the right to be able to enjoy a satisfying sex life throughout their lives, protected from discrimination, abuse and sexually transmitted diseases.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) is engaged in comprehensive activities to foster the realisation of these human rights worldwide. In the sphere of development cooperation, all aspects related to such work are subsumed under the term “Sexual and reproductive health and rights” (SRHR).

Logo: Strategy for a feminist development policy

Through its approach of pursuing a feminist development policy, the German Development Ministry is strengthening the opportunities for women and girls to take their own decisions about their lives. It is improving their access to education and information, to contraceptives, and to health services that facilitate professional maternity care. This benefits society as a whole, making it more just, more sustainable, and more successful.

Development Minister Svenja Schulze during her speech at the dialogue event "More than just a 'women's issue' - Sexual and reproductive health and rights as key to feminist development policy" at the BMZ in Berlin
Bodily autonomy must be guaranteed for all – without question.
Svenja Schulze German Development Minister

Background Facts and figures

We still have a long way to go before all people are able to exercise their human rights in relation to reproductive health, sex and sexuality, and family planning. Deficits particularly affect women, girls and LGBTIQ+ people.

  • According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, nearly 800 women die every day due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth. That is about 290,000 a year – and more than 90 per cent of these deaths occur in countries in the Global South.
  • According to a scientific study, some 40 per cent of all pregnancies worldwide are unplanned. Six in ten unplanned pregnancies end in abortion – and nearly half of all abortions are unsafe. A significant proportion of maternal mortality is linked to unsafe abortion.
  • An estimated 270 million women worldwide who would like to avoid getting pregnant have no access to modern methods of family planning.
  • The World Health Organization estimates that over 200 million girls and women in Asia, the Middle East and Africa are affected by genital mutilation.
  • Many girls and women are subjected to sexual or physical violence. According to WHO estimates, nearly one third of all women worldwide experience such violence in the course of their lives.
  • In 67 countries, homosexual partnerships are a criminal offence. In 11 of these countries, homosexual acts can be punished by death.
  • Worldwide, some 12 million girls under the age of 18 are married every year. For most of them, this means the end of their schooling. Early pregnancies have a negative impact on their health, and on that of their children.
  • In 2021, some 1.5 million people were newly infected with HIV. This particularly affects young women, men who have sex with men, drug users, sex workers and their clients, incarcerated people, and transgender people.
  • In many countries, access to vaccines against sexually transmitted infections with human papillomavirus (HPV) and Hepatitis B virus is very limited.
Women patients waiting at the maternity ward of Nkhoma Hospital, Malawi Many women, some of them visibility pregnant, are sitting on the ground in a porch area.

Waiting patients in the maternity ward of Nkhoma Hospital in Malawi

Waiting patients in the maternity ward of Nkhoma Hospital in Malawi

German activities Global efforts to foster bodily autonomy and reproductive health

Germany is campaigning for bodily autonomy and each person's right to sexual and reproductive health. Germany's development cooperation is guided by the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (External link) in Cairo in 1994 and the findings of the report of the Guttmacher-Lancet Commission (External link).

In Cairo, the international community decided to move towards a political approach that focuses less on individual countries' population policies and more on individual people and their rights.

Protecting these rights is not only important for each individual person, it also has a positive impact on society as a whole. Comprehensive sexuality education and access to rights-based family planning usually have an influence on birth rates.

For many developing countries, it is a great challenge to provide good living conditions for their growing populations. Slower population growth can improve the outlook for people in these countries to enjoy a better future. At the same time, young people are a great asset for economic and social development. Targeted investments in health, education and employment, and legal certainty for young women and men facilitate sustainable population development and offer an opportunity to achieve accelerated economic growth.

International cooperation

Together with its partners, the German government campaigned strongly for making the right to bodily autonomy and the improvement of sexual and reproductive health part of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda. These efforts largely succeeded. The topic was included in SDG 3 (Health and well-being) and SDG 5 (Gender equality).

One important focus of SDG 3 (Health) is the further reduction of maternal, newborn and child mortality. SDG 3 also includes a target for ending the HIV epidemic.

SDG 5 comprises ambitious targets on gender equality and on reducing gender-based violence. This includes the eradication of practices such as female genital mutilation and child marriage.

The German government also addresses aspects of sexual and reproductive health that have not been included in the SDGs, such as young people's access to comprehensive sexuality education and the elimination of all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation.


At the international level, Germany is involved in various fora and partnerships. They include the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (External link) (PMNCH), the Family Planning 2030 initiative (External link), and the Every Woman Every Child campaign of the UN Secretary-General.

Significant progress and promising approaches

Symbolic image: A midwife works at her desk
Symbolic image: A midwife works at her desk

Even though numerous challenges remain, significant progress has been made in many areas of sexual and reproductive health. Here are some examples.

  • The number of maternal deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth dropped by 34 per cent between 2000 and 2020. This has mainly been achieved through improved access to health services and to skilled attendance at birth.
  • More and more people have access to information on methods of family planning and to comprehensive sexuality education. The number of women using modern family planning methods nearly doubled between 1990 and 2021 – from 467 million to 874 million.
  • By combining various prevention methods and expanding antiretroviral therapy for people infected with HIV, new HIV infections and deaths from AIDS have been reduced significantly.

The combination of a variety of factors has facilitated this progress on sexual and reproductive health. They include the development of new and more effective drugs and prevention, diagnostics and treatment methods, and the dissemination of these new developments, as well as efforts to train staff or strengthen health systems in other ways.

Good and active governance is also important. This means fostering the right to bodily autonomy, minimising corruption and inefficiency, facilitating citizen and patient participation, and defining the right goals and pursuing them systematically. Such efforts must not be limited to the health sector; they need to address other areas as well. For instance, girls' access to education is a particularly powerful factor that has multiple positive impacts on their sexual and reproductive health, and simultaneously strengthens their rights and participation.

Comprehensive German support for bodily autonomy and health

Online course Population dynamics – an introduction External link

Together with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) has developed an e-learning course on population dynamics and sustainable development. The course is available from the atingi platform.

Protecting the right to bodily autonomy, fostering sexual and reproductive health, and providing access to family planning information and services are important goals of Germany's development policy.

The Initiative on Rights-based Family Planning and Reproductive Health for All brings together many programmes under Germany's development cooperation. Between 2011 and 2021, the BMZ committed more than 1.2 billion euros as part of this effort, especially for activities to prevent unwanted pregnancies and support safe pregnancy and childbirth.

Under the Initiative, support is currently being provided to over 20 partner countries in Africa and Asia. Further countries are reached through regional programmes and through the work of faith-based and other non-governmental organisations. For example, in the period up to 2020, the Initiative enabled some 37 million couples to get access to modern contraceptives and thus prevent unwanted pregnancies. The Initiative will continue until 2025.

The BMZ also supports important international partners in the sector. One of them is the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). It works to reduce maternal mortality and to end gender-based violence, and to facilitate universal access to family planning. In 2022, German support for UNFPA totalled about 60 million euros.

The BMZ also supports the International Planned Parenthood Federation (External link) (IPPF). The Federation's member organisations give people in 170 countries direct access to family planning methods and health services. IPPF is an important voice for sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Moreover, Germany is an important donor to major health funds such as the Global Financing Facility (External link) (GFF); Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (External link); and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (External link).

From 2002 to 2022, Germany provided about 5.1 billion US dollars in support of the Global Fund, making it the Fund's fourth-largest official donor. And since 2006, Germany has provided over 1.36 billion euros to support Gavi's work on basic immunisation and health systems strengthening. It is the Alliance's fourth-largest official donor.

Cooperation in action Sexuality education at vocational training centres in Mozambique

Instructions on condom use Detail photograph: arms of people sitting around a desk, with two hands on the left holding a condom and two arms and hands visible on the right
Instructions on condom use 

In Mozambique, many girls are married and become pregnant before the age of 18. Unplanned pregnancy is a common reason for young women to drop out of school or vocational training. In order to be able to exercise their right to autonomy, women need sexual education and access to contraceptives.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) is assisting Mozambique in introducing sexual education at five vocational training centres. The Pro-Educação initiative will be giving vocational students access to contraceptives and advice on how to plan their lives, and on family planning, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Information will also be provided to teachers and parents and traditional community leaders regarding sex and sexuality, family planning, and the consequences of unplanned pregnancies. Since 2019, Pro-Educação has been working to integrate sexual education in the curricula of basic and vocational education, thus improving young women's opportunities to build a good future for themselves.

As at: 28/04/2023