The United Nations Population Fund has said that many obstacles still blocked women's path to leadership and one of the most fundamental was lack of bodily autonomy.

Natalia Kanem executive director of UNPFA, issuing a statement today on the occasion of International Women's Day, said many women could not decide about their bodies, such as whether to have sexual relations, use contraceptives, or even make their own health-care choices.

"No woman should be denied these choices. Yet we see, one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, how crises can exacerbate existing barriers that hinder the ability of women to exercise bodily autonomy: sexual and reproductive health services were shuttered or scaled back, and gender-based violence skyrocketed," she said.

This year, the theme for Women's Day, "Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world," celebrates the tremendous efforts of women and girls in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COV- ID-19 pandemic and highlights the gaps that remain.

As women are still under-represented in public life and decision-making, evidences show women's full and effective participation and leadership in all areas of life drives progress for everyone.

"Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, women have kept entire societies going, sustaining health systems as frontline workers and courageously managing extra responsibilities at home in caring for the ill as well as children. They have kept open shelters for survivors of violence against women, and they have scaled mountains, literally, to distribute contraceptives," the UNFPA chief said.

A woman who cannot realise bodily autonomy may face compounding barriers to equality throughout her life, undermining the range of rights and choices required for becoming a leader, Dr Natalia further said. "That is why we must ensure women gain both skills and opportunities to lead, and build on a firm foundation of bodily autonomy."

A version of this article appears in the print on March 09, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.