Women’s health news continues to dominate, inform, and affect our lives and imaginations. Ahead of the Women Deliver Conference, I highlight some of the most influential advances in young women’s sexual and reproductive health of this past few decades and their potential to promote women’s sexual and reproductive rights in multiple ways.
As I boarded my flight on Saturday to from Nairobi destined for Denmark to attend the Women Deliver Conference, I reflected on the journey ahead: security checks, somewhat long layover at Doha airport, change in temperature and eventual time difference from my own country. Up to this point, I had done the due diligence preparation for travel processes which include visa application and logistical arrangements. Upon further reflection, this process lay particular significance and meaning to the Conference ahead and the journey to secure girls’ and women’s rights in health.
A Moment in History
When it comes to contraception, life today has meant a variety of choices available for the young woman. It is difficult to imagine that about sixty years ago, the main method of contraception was coitus interruptus (withdrawal method). The pill was only approved as a form of contraception in 1960. Interestingly, the pill was actually approved by the FDA in 1957, but only for severe menstrual disorders and not as a contraceptive. What followed was a surge in the number of women who reported severe menstrual disorders. Fast forward, many years later, contraception is much more easily available and working better. In order to go farther, both young women and men need access to education, good reproductive services and choice on the different contraceptive methods available.
While it’s great that we have a variety of contraceptive methods, reality is that contraception does not always work. This could be for a range of reasons including coercion, male reluctance, timing, myths surrounding sexual activity. Secondly, since the invention of the pill to date, unmet need for contraception remains a great challenge and the greatest contributor to unsafe abortions.
Fact: If a woman feels she can’t go ahead with a pregnancy, she won’t! Even if it means putting her life at risk
A groundbreaking research recently released by Guttmacher Institute and World Health Organization indicates that anti-abortion laws don’t reduce abortion rates but access to contraception does. According to the research, “Abortion rates are at an all-time low in the developed world, having dropped by more than 40 per cent over the past 25 years. But in developing countries – many of which have outlawed abortion and make contraception difficult access – the rate of abortions has stayed nearly constant”. This is because unavailability or limited access to contraception leads to unintended pregnancies which lead to abortions – safe or otherwise! It is time this changed and women and girls given full control over their own bodies.
Another area in girls and women health that has had remarkable advancements in the past few years is childbirth.
A woman’s first need for childbirth is survival, for herself and for her baby.
Ensuring that pregnant women have access to proper postnatal care, prenatal care and trained healthcare professionals for their births has had innumerable benefits, saving thousands of women each year from dying while giving birth. Moreover, technology has further advanced this field through innovations including mobile applications such as SafeDelivery – an app that trains health workers to save mothers and newborns across Africa. It is important to recognize the full spectrum of human rights at stake in childbirth. Beyond, survival as a woman’s need and fundamental human right, women also have the rights to autonomy, privacy and freedom from discrimination. Systems of maternity care need to attend to the full spectrum of well being – physical survival, psychological and emotional – during birth, postnatal and in the years to come.
For me, I remain hopeful that this particular Women Deliver Conference is a vital opportunity to provide a safe landing for women and girls world over – because they do much more than just deliver. From local to regional and international levels, young women and girls are leading sustainable, holistic and transformative change and are not merely beneficiaries of projects or contributors to economic growth. This week should be about navigating difficult conversations, challenging old truths and renewal of commitments. Only then can we foster conditions that will lead to a truly lasting impact on the lives and health of women and girls.
Girls’ Globe is present at the Women Deliver Conference, bringing you live content straight from the heart of the action. If you can’t be there in person, you can be a part of Women Deliver through the Virtual Conference, by hosting an event in your hometown, and by engaging online using #WDLive and #WD2016.
Featured photo credit: UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Pudlowski