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On Tuesday 20 July 2021, the Government of Zambia in partnership with UNFPA co-hosted a joint event to commemorate the World Population Day and launch of the 2021 State of World Population Report. The theme for this year’s world population day is “Rights and Choices are the Answer: Whether baby boom or bust, the solution lies in prioritizing the reproductive health and rights of all people”; while the theme for the 2021 State of World Population Report is; “My Body is my own: Claiming the right to autonomy and self-determination.”

Zambia like many other countries continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic which has taken a huge toll on communities and systems for delivery of social services. Notably, the pandemic has continued to pause significant risks to the sustained provision of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) information and services. Further, as the country prioritizes the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the reallocation of resources away from the SRH services could take a toll on the health of women and girls. The pandemic has also exacerbated gender inequalities and gender-based violence, with increased incidence of violence during implementation of the Covid-19 restrictive preventive measures. Coupled with all this, there are further anecdotal indications that maternal deaths, child marriage and adolescent pregnancies have increased, as programmes to address these challenges have been interrupted.

Therefore, the event, which was held virtually and broadcasted live through national television and digital platforms, underscored the urgency for various stakeholders to prioritize investment in sexual reproductive health information and services especially in light of the disruptions in health service delivery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the event, both the Government of Zambia (represented by the Ministries of National Development Planning, Health and Gender) and UNFPA reaffirmed their continued commitment to safeguard the sexual, reproductive health and rights of all people especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as to ensure that women and girls are empowered to make their own decisions about their bodies and are free from all forms of violation. They further made a rallying call on all stakeholders to join in and collectively make this a reality for Zambia.

“Zambia along with many other countries recognizes that sexual reproductive health rights are important and therefore continues to place a high premium on upholding these rights. This is because of the intricate link that exists between women’s sexual reproductive health and women being empowered economically as well as having good health for themselves and their families.” - Mr. Chola Chabala, Permanent Secretary – Ministry of National Development Planning.

“Upholding the right to bodily autonomy for all is crucial for achieving gender equity and equality in the development process.” - Dr. Sastone Silomba, Permanent Secretary – Ministry of Gender

“As you may be aware, the fertility rate for Zambia stands at 4.7 births per woman. These and other population dynamics call upon us a country to reposition ourselves well so that we are able to provide timely, appropriate and quality reproductive, maternal, neonatal, child and adolescent health services to our people.” - Dr. Kennedy Malama, Permanent Secretary – Ministry of Health

“We call on all stakeholders to redouble our efforts in prioritizing the sexual and reproductive health and rights of all as a matter of urgency. To achieve this effectively, health systems and communities should be supported to deliver sexual and reproductive health services during crises- including by classifying this work as essential.”  - Ms. Gift Malunga, Country Representative – UNFPA Zambia