Happy World Contraception Day!

Do you know about World Contraception Day? It was launched in 2007 with the mission of improving contraception awareness and empowering youth with the ability to arrive at informed decisions about their reproductive and sexual health.

World Contraception Day (WCD) celebrates this concept every September 26th with the vision that no woman should have an unwanted pregnancy, making way for less risky abortions, fewer newborn and maternal deaths and greater prosperity and equality for all women everywhere. So, what are we celebrating exactly?

What Exactly Is World Contraception Day?

More than 70 countries typically participate in World Contraception Day. The World Health Organization describes the importance of WCD in a way that encompasses the promotion of family planning and female autonomy, supporting free choice of women worldwide, which in turn strengthens world health goals.

Ensuring that women can access their preferred contraceptive methods and make empowered decisions about their sexual health secures their autonomy and well-being. In turn, this movement strengthens the development and health of communities.

Women have used various contraceptive methods for centuries with varying to limited success, but modern medicine now allows women to choose if, when and how many kids they want to have — which can break the cycle of impoverishment and build a more sustainable path for the future of families and communities around the world.

The world population continues to grow, and limited access to contraception by law and other restrictions threaten women and the livelihood of and quality of life for families across the world.

Even in a wealthy country like the United States, women choose to have fewer kids for valid reasons: 64 percent cite rising childcare expenses, 54 percent want more time with their kids, 49 percent worry about the economy and 44 percent can’t afford kids. Other reasons include anxiety about domestic politics, work-life balance, career ambitions, rising population levels and parental aptitude.

Why I’m Celebrating World Contraception Day

Having access to a variety of family planning methods enables couples and families to do what’s best for themselves. As families plan if, when and how many children they will have, economic, social and health benefits increase for all.

I don’t personally want to have children, and while I don’t know if that will change, I certainly want to live in a world where I never have to face the scary possibility of giving birth to a human child who I am not prepared to take care of properly.

And in an American political climate where someone like Brett Kavanaugh is even being considered a viable candidate for judgeship, I believe that we need to be talking about contraceptives and safe, consensual sexual practices more than ever before.

It’s important for other countries as well. According to the USAID, more than 225 million women want to avoid or delay pregnancy in developing countries, but they don’t currently use family planning. WCD stresses the importance of increasing access to contraceptive services and information for everyone.

Every individual has a right to quality and affordable family planning information and contraceptives. Many organizations sponsor the delivery of condoms and contraceptives to developing countries. Knowledge about family planning gets shared not only at health clinics, but at salons, too! Wherever women go, we should be making sure that information is readily available to them.

Visit World Contraception Day online at your-life.com, which provides answers to common questions people have about contraceptives, reproduction and women’s health. Visitors can also research information about pregnancy and the “growing pains” of puberty.

You can celebrate World Contraception Day by sharing information on it, practicing safe and consensual sexual habits and honoring your sexual health by giving your body the TLC it deserves!

What is the ‘Right’ Age to Talk to Girls About Safe Sex?

World Contraception Day was at the end of September, which many people were simply unaware of. This is particularly the case in communities like the Luzira slum area of Kampala, where there are high rates of early pregnancy, maternal mortality, unsafe abortions, and HIV/STI infection stemming from unprotected sex and lack of education and services related to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), especially for adolescent girls. But in a highly religious and conservative country like Uganda, when is the right time to start talking to girls about how to protect themselves, while acknowledging that abstinence is the most effective option?

To give a bigger picture, WHO defines adolescents as ‘young people between the ages of 10 – 19 years’, which is synonymous with ‘teenager’, a person aged from 13 – 19 years. According to a 2011 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS), 24% of all teenagers in Uganda are either pregnant or have already given birth, and more than one in three never – married women aged 15–24 have had sex. This has implications not only for a young mother and her children, but on a national scale where larger socio-economic structures are impacted. Hence, the importance of addressing teenage girls. But it raises the question, when is the right time?

Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU) has programs for girls in primary school to supplement their basic education.  Life skills are at the crux of the curriculum, with adolescent health and SRHR being a key component. One of GUIU’s goals is to dispel any myths and clear up previous misinformation, seeing the knowledge it imparts as a form of empowerment.

Photo Credit: GUIU
Photo Credit: GUIU

On September 23rd, GUIU held a girls health education training for 80 girls at Murchison Bay Primary School, and then a larger mass education session for 500 girls that focused on girls health education, headed by a local medical nurse Ms. Namuyimbwa Hajara. The topics covered included the dangers of early sex and pregnancy, such as exposure to HPV and cervical cancer.  Monica Nyiraguhabwa, GUIU’s Executive Director who strives towards empowering girls in Uganda, stressed that when dealing with girls ages 8-16 (the average age of the girls in the program being 12) great care has to be taken to avoid upsetting parents; and that therefore, taking an ‘abstinence only’ approach is perhaps the best age-appropriate option. With girls in secondary school, however, it is more acceptable to discuss the use of contraception in detail.

That said, with girls on the higher end of the age spectrum, SRHR education becomes a bit more complicated. While it is difficult to pin-point what age a girl will engage in or be exposed to sexual activity, an education program that provides contraception information has to take center stage. To this end, World Contraception Day was set up to spread the word about safe sex and the use of contraception among adolescents and young adults, to ensure they have all the necessary information to protect themselves.

Perhaps as girls are approaching the upper echelons of adolescence, around 15 years old, this is a crucial time to start the conversation, at least in an educational setting. In addition to the need for proactive parents, in conservative countries where cultural and spiritual leaders, religious figureheads, and traditional elders are heavily influential, they must realize the importance of addressing sexual activity with adolescents, especially girls. The position that some leaders take in scarcely talking about sex, or reacting negatively to the distribution of contraceptives by various groups, perpetuates ignorance and promotes harmful patterns among youth who are hungry for honest and useful SRHR information.  This eagerness was demonstrated at a GUIU adolescent health day held for an entire school at the request of the headmaster and staff for over 500 girls between ages 10 – 16. The mass campaign garnered much engagement and participation from the girls, who had a lot of questions and were eager to participate in the conversation.

Locally run organizations like GUIU are taking the important step in starting this conversation so that girls can freely ask questions and receive the correct information about their changing bodies. When they enter secondary school as GUIU alumni, the organization will ensure that they are provided with resources around safe sex and contraception. If an adolescent girl finds herself in situation where she may engage in sexual activity, is it not better that she knows in advance how she can protect herself, and have access to the means to do so? When girls continue to drop out of school because of early pregnancy, it should become obvious that this issue must be tackled head on!

Availability and Affordability of Contraceptives is Access

“I am 17 years old and a mother of two. I was impregnated by my then ‘boyfriend’ who was my schoolmate and older than me from a wealthy family. He showered me with gifts some of which my single mum who worked as a casual laborer and had 6 children could not provide. When I learned I was pregnant, I didn’t know what to do. The man who was responsible denied being the father and asked me to have an abortion because he was too young to be called a father. I was too scared to tell my Mother and abortion was not an option for me either. I was too stressed and young to think straight.

I met an old man who had a wife but was willing to take me with my baby. I eloped with him and started a life together. After I delivered my baby life changed drastically. It was difficult to take care of my baby and my husband could not provide for us. He claimed he gave me shelter and that I should feed myself and my infant. I started washing people’s clothes with my baby on my back to raise money for my upkeep. I went to my local clinic to be guided on what method of family planning I would use as I was not ready to have another baby but was turned away that I was too young. I went back the second time again to be told that there was no one to attend to me. I did not give up and went back five times with no success.

I got pregnant again! Not because I wanted but because I was denied my rights. I was mad, upset, angry and cursed the day I was born. I did not have gainful employment as a young mother and providing basic needs to my child was a nightmare. I was depressed and it’s during this tough season that I met a social worker who introduced me to a charity organization that was empowering teenage mothers. We were taught life skills including reproductive health and also using contraceptives to limit the number of children. I could finally access contraceptives and started using injections. I am now back to school and continue giving advice to other young women with hopes that they will follow and learn my lesson. Our governments and health institutions need to understand that reproductive health including family planning is our constitutional right and that they need to increase financial allocation towards women and children’s health.”

– Magda – Kenya (I met Magda in one of the slums of Nairobi during a field visit)

World Contraception Day (WCD), celebrated on 26 September, is a worldwide campaign with a vision for a world where every pregnancy is wanted. Launched in 2007, its mission is to improve awareness of contraception to enable young people to make informed decisions on sexual and reproductive health. Observation of this day raises public awareness of the means of contraception. Sex education programs are targeted at young people, including minors. Awareness of contraception and reproductive health will help avoid unplanned pregnancies, abortions and spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Investing in family planning as a component of good reproductive health has benefits that go beyond the obvious prevention of pregnancy and reduction of disease burden, the social and economic benefits for global development goals should not be overlooked.

While contraceptive use has risen to relatively high levels in many areas of Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, it remains low in much of sub-Saharan Africa. Only about 1 in 4 women of reproductive age in Africa use a modern method of family planning and this proportion is substantially lower in many countries of the region. These numbers, however, do not indicate a lack of interest in family planning among women in the region. Young women in the region lack access to or are not using an effective method of contraception. Reasons for this vary from each country but most are related to lack of supplies, poor quality of services and cultural and political barriers. The most affected group is young women living in poverty, those living with HIV/AIDS and those of post abortion care.  In Uganda, 41% of women who want access to contraception fail to get it. The unmet need in Rwanda is 38% of women; Kenya’s is 25%.

Giving  women in sub Saharan Africa the opportunity to time their pregnancies and space out their children through effective, low-cost contraception is key to turning around these heartbreaking numbers. Not only does access to family planning information and contraception improve the health of mothers and children, it also improves the economies of their households. When a woman has fewer children and more time to work, harvesting crops or growing her business, she brings more resources into the home so her children can be fed and go to school. Young women in sub Saharan Africa especially face multiple barriers to accessing contraceptives including lack of information, social stigma, provider bias, lack of confidentiality and policy restrictions. What they need is information and skills to make informed choices. In some societies young women have limited control over their contraceptive choice. They lack the power to negotiate contraceptive use with their partners and decisions are made for them mostly by their parents, spouses or partners. Teenage mothers particularly face barriers that include societal pressure to have children, fear of spouses and lack to transport to health service providers.

In most cases conversations about contraception tend to be religiously and politically charged. Some people believe that giving women access to contraception is encouraging promiscuity, even though most of the women who use oral contraception are married. Civil society organizations should continue to actively advocate for and invest in increasing access to family planning information and contraceptives as this will result in fewer women and girls dying in pregnancy and childbirth, fewer unintended pregnancies, fewer abortions, and fewer infant deaths.

I am a woman and I have a right to access information and services that will enable me to know when it is time to grow a family and when it is time to wait and also how long I should nurse my baby.

#LifeChangingOptions campaign aims to ensure all women and girls, everywhere in the world, have access to contraception Learn more here! 

Featured image: Lindsay Mgbor/Department for International Development

Menstrual Health: There’s an App for That

Women’s options for birth control have become increasingly more diverse since it’s creation.  NaturalCycles, a Swedish company, is capitalizing on this momentum and providing women a revolutionary contraception option: the smartphone.

NaturalCycles’ mobile app uses an algorithm based on a woman’s daily body temperature to determine her fertility level. There are no surgical procedures, daily pills or chemicals. Instead, the app user is getting to know her body and its natural cycles and can make educated decisions based on the data provided.

The only requirement is for the woman to take her temperature each morning and based on this data, the app uses a calendar to mark the days that a woman is most fertile.  She can then make an educated sexual decision based on her fertility and desire to conceive.  This calendar empowers women to understand their bodies without the continued cost, burden and side effects of hormonal contraception.

To support the technology, NaturalCycles is also contributing to general sexual education with this strong resource for information about the menstrual cycle, irregular cycles, fertility indicators and the science behind the app’s technology.  Regardless of whether a woman is interested in switching her contraceptive method, the articles and blogs serve as a place for women (and men) to have a greater understanding of female reproductive health.

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September 26 is World Contraception Day and NaturalCycles is launching their #LifeChangingOptions campaign to raise awareness on contraceptive options and encourage educated decisions. For every use of the #LifeChangingOptions hashtag, NaturalCycles will donate funds to support the work of Kvinna till Kvinna to ensure that all women and girls have the ability and right to take control over their own bodies and reproductive decisions! 

Join Girls’ Globe in keeping the contraceptive conversation going this month with #LifeChangingOptions on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook!