Access to family planning resources and information should be the simplest, most accessible part of healthcare for women. And yet, in developing countries it is a huge factor in women's early death. In developed countries, it's an issue that still kills women.
In this article, we're going to discuss the impact that family planning has on women and their communities in developing countries, and what we can do as individuals to make positive difference. In follow up articles, we'll examine how limiting women's access to safe abortion, contraception and education is a violation of human rights, and discuss how women's health is a public health issue.
47,000 Women Die From Unsafe Abortions Yearly.
For over 214 million women in developing countries, even the simplest and most readily usable safer sex tools aren't an option.
This is a youth issue, it's a women's issue, it's a public health issue, it's an inter-generational issue that has long lasting health and economic consequences, and it's one that we desperately need to talk about. In 2016, 44 in 1000 girls aged 15-19 had unplanned pregnancies in developing countries. With these pregnancies representing large risk to the women's and children's lives and health.
3 million of these girls will access unsafe abortions each year. And some 47,000 women die from unsafe abortions world wide each year.
I've personally had this discussion with people who sit comfortably in proverbial ivory towers, making suggestions that it isn't their problem, that unsafe sex is the issue, or that the issue of abortion is cut and dry: don't allow it.
This simplistic view of things is neither helpful nor accurate; unsafe sex is an issue but it's not the causative issue. Lack of family planning resources, education, and options available to women and their families is a more accurate determinant.
As for abortion, we have overwhelming evidence that making abortion illegal does not stop women from seeking and accessing it, but it does kill women. If we are going to address women's health in a pragmatic and sensible way, then access to safe, legal, abortion is the option that saves lives and reduces abortions. Science and stats are fun.
A Simple, But Not Easy Issue
This issue is simply fixed, but not easily fixed.
Family planning is a multifaceted gemstone of an issue, and it needs to be approached from several angles, at different stages throughout an individual's life.
We know we can't stop people having sex, and frankly why would we want to. But we can empower them with education and put them in the driver's seat of their fertility. We can teach about consent, and rape. We can gently nudge cultures to see sex as a positive act between two individuals who are both willing and consenting.
We can train health care professionals and have conversations about sexual health, STIs, birth control (ugh, I hate that term... let's run with contraception) and we can influence our governments to provide funds for family planning programs.
In 2011, WHO published guidelines to address the issue of child and teen pregnancy, and it's long lasting social, health, and economic consequences with 6 main over-reaching guidelines.:
- Reducing marriage before the age of 18 years. Estimates suggest a 10% reduction in child marriage could contribute to a 70% reduction in a country`s maternal mortality rate (16).
- Creating understanding and support to reduce pregnancy before the age of 20 years.
- Increasing the use of contraception by adolescents at risk of unintended pregnancy. If this need was to be met, 2.1 million unplanned births, 3.2 million abortions, and 5600 maternal deaths could be averted each year
- Reducing coerced sex among adolescents.
- Reducing unsafe abortion among adolescents.
- Increasing use of skilled antenatal, childbirth and postnatal care among adolescents
Access to contraception and family planning education is key to turning this proverbial ship around and improving the lives of women and their communities in developing countries.
Family Planning Saves Lives, Builds Communities
So what is Family Planning? It's the access, means, knowledge and resources to decide if and when you're going to have children.
This includes understanding hormonal contraceptives, implants, surgical methods, fertility treatment, and barrier methods such as male and female condoms. It includes sex education and discussion about fertility, STIs and pregnancy and childbirth.It includes talking about concepts like rape, coercion and consent.
These conversations need to be had with religious, cultural, and economic sensitivity, as the barriers to family planning are what make this issue a simple, but not easy challenge.
According to UNFPA, if the unmet needs of family planning were met in developing countries, some 76,000 lives would be saved. That number is astounding.
Family Planning Empowers Women
The follow on consequences of Family Planning means that women are empowered. They have the potential to complete their education, better economic security, and participate autonomous members of their households and communities. This infographic demonstrates the amazing impact that education, resources, autonomy has for women, their communities, and public health at large.
The UNFPA is doing amazing work along side the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to deliver family planning resources to developing countries and it's having some incredible success.
In 2017, the UNFPA Program:
- Averted 13.5 million unintended pregnancies
- Averted 4.1 million unsafe abortions
- Averted 32,000 maternal deaths
- Saved $819 million in health-care costs
But there is a long way to go, with funding, resources, and government backing being a barrier to achieving true success for women and their communities.
How You Can Help
Here at Polkadotsi, I love to leave my work with actionable things the individual can do. So if you want to make a difference to access to family planning, here are some steps you can take:
- Share this article!
- Share the UNFPA link to family planning https://www.unfpa.org/family-planning
- Talk about family planning issues, and contraception and remove the stigma around discussions about public health.
- Donate to UNFPA https://www.unfpa.org/donate