Every minute, a woman dies during pregnancy or childbirth, and 99% of those deaths occur in developing countries and other low-resource settings. The majority of these deaths are preventable.
Family planning and comprehensive reproductive health care allow women to space their pregnancies until they are physically able to care for their children. However, 222 million women lack access to contraception and reproductive health services.
The World Health Organization posits that by providing all women access to effective contraception the global rate of maternal deaths would be reduced by one-third. This will prevent 54 million unintended pregnancies, 26 million abortions (including 16 million unsafe abortions), and 1.1 million infant deaths. Adolescent women, in particular, would benefit from improved access to family planning services.
Maternal mortality is the leading cause of death among girls under 15 years old in most developing countries.
Six out of ten women in least developed countries are not using contraception, despite their desire to delay or prevent pregnancy. The global demand is real. Public health interventions should continue to focus on bolstering voluntary family planning programs for all women.
A woman’s lack of access to family planning and reproductive health care is bad for business.
Aside from the potential costs and dangers of pregnancy, without the ability to plan births women are forced to leave the work force. Studies show that women and girls invest 90 percent of their incomes into their families. Without the ability to participate in the same public sectors as their male counterparts women are denied the opportunity to leverage their own incomes and challenge normalized gender roles. As a result, families and communities are impeded from proper development.
Improving access to family planning services and supplies is a concrete strategy to address gender-based violence and catalyze economic
progress. In an effort to reduce maternal and child mortality, advancing access to sexual and reproductive health care and information is a cornerstone of many development agendas.
Reproductive and sexual health is a human right of all women, regardless of nationality, religion, or other social determinants. Women must be empowered with the necessary tools to make choices regarding their own health.
In recognizing the founding of reproductive health justice, we are able to challenge both opposition to ensuring these rights, as well as the impunity of governments and individuals alike in failing to protect them.
Every nation in the world has ratified at least one international human rights treaty, and the highest attainment of health is a central tenant of these international codes. First defined in Tehran at the International Conference on Human Rights in 1968, reproductive rights have only expanded in specificity and enforcement through multi-national conferences and institutions, including the ground-breaking 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo and the United Nations.
Integrating a human rights-based approach to improving access to reproductive and sexual health services complements development and public health strategies by strengthening the accountability mechanisms of governments and individuals. A new report from the WHO, ‘Ensuring human rights in the provision of contraceptive information and services: Guidance and recommendations’ exemplifies the existing legal guidelines that can be used to break down barriers in access. These standards are tools to empower the voices of all women denied this essential right.
A human rights-based approach gives ‘teeth’ to the public health and development agendas dedicated to health equity by setting a precedent to motivate our global obligation to act.
By continuing to systematically integrate human rights principles into the expansion of reproductive health care and family planning services worldwide, we can create reverberating impact in the advancement of women’s needs and their rights.