Too often, women having access to contraceptives is considered some sort of luxury item – something that is optional, a matter of a choice, not something that should be made easily and readily available at an affordable, or even subsidized price. But the thing about contraceptives is that they aren’t just a tool for preventing unwanted pregnancies (and in the case of condoms, STDs) – they are a tool for women and girls to take control over their own bodies, and therefore their lives.
As someone who has lived in the United States for the past 6 years, I have followed the sexual and reproductive health debate in the U.S. with interest and also horror. I’ve watched women’s bodies – my body – becoming a political war zone, ripped open and apart by pundits and politicians on both sides, for one main reason: because for as long as there has been history, there have been people (mostly men) who believe they have the right to make decisions about women’s bodies and women’s reproductive and sexual choices over the women themselves.
Obviously, this isn’t an American issue. Women and girls around the world lack access to basic sexual and reproductive health services and contraceptives – services, information and tools that would allow them to make decisions about preventing unwanted pregnancies, protect themselves from HIV and other STDs, and choose when and with whom to start a family. These aren’t small issues – these are huge decisions and choices that can determine a person’s future and course of life in one instance. For millions of women, especially in developing countries, these can be issues of life and death. And yet, the issue of ensuring that all women and girls, everywhere in the world, have access to proper sexual and reproductive health services, sexual education and contraceptives has not been prioritized as central not only to women’s and girls’ health, well-being and empowerment, but for sustainable development, economic growth and progress in general.
Luckily, there is light at the end of the tunnel. This week at the UN Sustainable Development Summit, the world officially adopted the 17 new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a new and bold agenda that, unlike its predecessor the MDGs, is truly global – meaning, the SDGs are an agenda for all the UN member countries, not just developing countries. This is the first improvement, given that many of the issues in the SDGs – including sexual and reproductive health – are not just problems in developing countries, but remain as challenges in large parts of the western world as well.
The second piece of great news is that under SDG 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, two of the targets are directly related to women’s health and maternal health, namely:
- By 2030, reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births.
- By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes.
This is a big improvement from the MDGs, where the issue of reproductive health was much more vaguely addressed and sexual health literally missing. While the new Goals are currently simply a new roadmap, and their effectiveness will be assessed by the world’s collective ability to not only meet them, but preferably surpass them, this is a good starting point. Now we are all accountable – every single nation – and there are no more excuses for ignoring women’s and girls’ basic right to sexual and reproductive health services, including access to reliable and affordable contraception. This isn’t just about controlling our bodies, it’s about taking control over our entire lives – and it’s about time that the control will be placed in the hands of the women themselves. Without that, there can be no empowerment, no gender equality, no emancipation for women – and no sustainable development.
26th of September was World Contraception Day, celebrated annually and aimed to ensure that each pregnancy in the world is wanted. Girls’ Globe is currently in New York, and we’ve been asking women and girls what their preferred method of contraception is and why. Find out what they said by checking out our Instagram. Learn more about our partnership with Natural Cycles and their #LifeChangingOptions campaign here.
Featured image: Lindsay Mgbor / DFID