On October 31, the world will welcome our 7 billionth member. Seven billion. That’s an almost unfathomable number. But the story behind that number is relatively simple: in the last hundred years, we have saved a lot of lives and people are living longer thanks to health care improvements, vaccinations, clean water, and more. Juxtaposed against that positive however, is the fact we have left millions upon millions of people—particularly women—without access to a basic human right: access to family planning and reproductive health.
Why is that so critical now? Because half of the 7 billion is under 25 years old. That means that half the world’s population is just now in or entering their reproductive years. These are youth like Sarah, a young mother I met in South Africa, who at 15 became pregnant for the first time because she didn’t have access to birth control and was unable to persuade her boyfriend to use a condom. She was forced to drop out of school to care for her daughter, and now struggles to support not only her own child, but her younger siblings as well. Despite not wanting to have more children, she became pregnant just a year later—again because she didn’t have access to birth control. Reliant on her boyfriend for some of her financial support, she gave in to his pressure that it would be ok, that she wouldn’t get pregnant.
In the slum outside of Cape Town where Sarah and I met, her story is all too common. Girls without sexual and reproductive health care and information—and limited in their ability to stand up for themselves because of gender inequity—fall into a pattern of early pregnancy and continued poverty. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Bright, energetic, and creative, Sarah could be out taking on the world. She, like most young people, is full of promise. And that’s what this growing half of the world’s population can be: an opportunity. An opportunity for us to fulfill our obligations to universal access to family planning and reproductive health care. As the UNFPA’s recent State of the World’s Population rightly states, young people have “hope, ambition and commitment to improve their own lives and those of their peers, neighbors, communities, and countries. Their success, however, will depend on their ability to take advantage of educational and economic opportunities as they arise and to overcome obstacles to their sexual and reproductive rights.”
The time is now for us to invest in the future. Rather than be overwhelmed by looming threats or dire predictions, we should be standing up and shouting from the rooftops that now is the time for action.
So what can you do? Take two simple actions today:
I am inspired by the energy and enthusiasm I see in the millions who are part of the Care2 community. If we can each take action today, our voices can make a big difference in the future of our world.