Access to family planning is a human right

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There are 225 million women with an unmet need for family planning around the world. Photo © 2013 Chelsea Hedquist, Courtesy of Photoshare

This week, women from around the country joined the White House at The United State of Women Summit to celebrate our strides towards gender equality. While we come together and look at what our work as advocates and institutions has accomplished here at home, we must not forget the millions of women around the world who continue to be deprived of their basic human rights, including the right to voluntary family planning.

Rose from Tanzania remembers how lack of access to family planning impacted her mother’s life. Rose’s mother had five children and as a single mother she was not able to provide the schooling costs for all her children. As a result, Rose and her siblings had to stop their studies after primary school. Rose wants a different life for her children. This is why after having two daughters, Rose immediately looked for family planning options.

Rose is lucky: There is a clinic ten minutes from her house, where she was able to learn about family planning and choose the method that was right for her. Being able to get an IUD not only gave her control over her own body, but has also made it easier for her to support her family. For millions of other women in Tanzania, however, access to life-saving birth control is inconsistent. In fact, nearly two million women around the country have an unmet need for contraception. Providing them with access could prevent 86,000 unsafe abortions each year.

And the problem extends far beyond Tanzania. Globally, there are 225 million women who want to prevent or delay pregnancy but aren’t using modern contraception. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, while 42% of women of childbearing age wish to postpone or avoid pregnancy, only 17% actually use modern contraceptives. And in Latin America and the Caribbean, where Zika virus has devastated communities because of the birth defects it causes, nearly half of adolescent girls have an unmet need for modern contraception. This contributes to the fact that 18% of births in Latin America take place during adolescence.

For women like Rose, having knowledge about contraception and the tools to make the right decisions for themselves is essential. Family planning allows Rose and millions of other women around the world to space their children a healthy number of years apart, take care of their own and their family’s health, grow professionally, and lift their families out of poverty.

But it’s not just about access to birth control. Insufficient or nonexistent sex education also harms women and girls. People who are not properly informed often have misconceptions about the side effects or health risks of modern contraceptives. The most common of these misconceptions are typically manifested in the fear that contraceptives can cause harm to women’s uterus and health or lead to decreasing the woman’s fertility, excessive bleeding, vomiting, or threats to the health of the fetus. In many developing nations, traditional methods of pregnancy avoidance are often used more often than more effective modern methods. In these instances, sex education and access to affordable options can drive down the number of unwanted pregnancies.

Rose’s IUD has given her options and made her more confident about her family’s future.

“I feel better when I’m using family planning. I look at my daughters and all I want is for them to be healthy and educated. I want them to grow up and have a better life.”

Women around the world should be able to get affordable contraception just like Rose did. Access to contraception shouldn’t be an anomaly, a luxury, or a privilege. It is time for the world to acknowledge that family planning is a fundamental human right.

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