SEATTLE – For women around the world, having safe and informed access to contraception means control and an improvement in their health, a reduction in poverty, and the added benefit of protecting the environment. In the developing world, nearly 222 million women – or one-in-four – do not want to become pregnant and need modern contraception.
Protecting a woman’s right to contraception, her rights to safe and informed medical care, and personal autonomy highlight the connection between individual human rights and the health and economic benefits that come from the enjoyment of such rights.
Birth control is just good for women. Birth control is good for the economy.
For every $1 invested into women’s sexual and reproductive rights through family planning, $4 is saved in other areas of public spending such as in education, public health, water, and sanitation. Family planning means stable population growth and the sustainable use of resources and services.
Unfortunately, for an issue with such clear benefits, there is so much to overcome in terms of public perception and sentiment about these programs. There is also prejudice and information to surmount in any cause addressing women’s rights and control over their bodies.
The issue of family planning has been tainted while also demonized by extreme conservatives and religious followers. Confusion between family planning and abortions continue to persist as well. Both are linked and held in the same category of immorality and taboo.
It has been difficult even for organizations like the United Nations to effectively take up such causes. The Millennium Development Goals originally did not include reproductive health because the issue of women’s rights was deemed “too controversial.” The MDG now includes universal access to family planning by 2015 under improved maternal health. Starting implementation of this has been slow, and many states still object to its inclusion.
Investing in the sexual and reproductive rights of youth is critical in helping young people develop in health and plan for their future; additionally, it would help other nations’ economies, such as African nations, reach their full potential. Many nations are on track with the MDG and family planning could expedite that progress. Not effectively ensuring the reproductive and sexual rights of women also means that some of the advances made in the last few decades could be lost in population instability and resource insecurity.
Women and children in sub-Saharan Africa face the greatest risks, and therefore, are most in need of protection. The bottom ten countries in maternal and child health are all in sub-Saharan Africa, with infants in Somalia having the highest global risk of dying within a day of birth. First-day death rates are nearly as high in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, and Sierra Leone. Respectively, women in Somalia and Sierra Leone face the second and third highest lifetime risk of maternal death in the world.
There has been a recent dramatic plunge in international donor funding for family planning, according to the UN. Equally, it is also threatening to undermine other humanitarian goals such as fighting poverty and hunger, as well as efforts to counter global warming.
Without the guarantee of reproductive and sexual rights for women, and with funded programs to provide such protection and access, the global community risks undoing progress already achieved with high fertility rates in extreme poverty. Not only are more people slipping into poverty, but more people are being born into that extreme poverty.
In the fight against global poverty, success is found in ensuring the rights of those most vulnerable. There is no issue in relation to poverty that can be won without protecting the rights of women. Whether it is the food crisis, the water crisis, the financial crisis, or the crisis of climate change, none of these can be successfully managed unless greater attention is provided to population issues, need for increased resources and support for family planning.
– Nina Verfaillie