As an American woman, I’ve always had access to whatever type of contraception I want—from a variety of birth control pills to colored, ribbed, even flavored condoms. At any time, I know I can call my doctor and set up an appointment to select a type of birth control, or in an emergency, stop by my local drug store. If I have questions, I can reach out to an array of friends, family or health websites and—if I was really at a loss—there’s no shortage of birth control and condom ads on TV ready to jump in and sell their products to me.
Unfortunately, in the developing world, this kind of access is too-often nonexistent. More than 200 million women want, but lack access, to contraception. Can you imagine the uproar that kind of situation would cause in the US? If someone took away my right to contraception, I would be among the first to pack my car and head to Washington to camp out in protest.
Women in many underdeveloped countries are being denied a fundamental human right—access to reproductive health care—but few have the means to make it to a clinic, much less organize a movement for increased access. This lack of access has devastating implications not only for women’s health and wellbeing, but for that of their families and communities. A few weeks ago, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote a column about Nahomie, a young Haitian mother of nine who is pregnant with her tenth child. The accompanying video “Saving Lives with Family Planning” highlighted Nahomie’s struggle to choose when and how often to have children. Unfortunately she is not unique. Hundreds of millions of women in the developing world face the same challenges to accessing reproductive health care every day.
Imagine being in Nahomie’s place and being told by a service provider that your only option for contraception is condoms—yet your partner refused to use them and you had no power in the relationship to persuade him otherwise or even refuse sex. Imagine being a woman in rural Nigeria and having to walk ten miles to a remote clinic only to discover that the service provider is away—with no information about when she might return. Or if the provider is there, deciding that you want a particular method—say an IUD—but being told that not only are they out of stock, but there is no one trained in how to do an insertion. Imagine wanting to stop having children so you could afford to send your 2 and 3 year-old-daughters to school, but having no way to even to get information about family planning. These scenarios are near-impossible to fathom in the US, but they happen throughout impoverished communities the world over.
Access to quality reproductive health care and family planning should be a right everywhere. It’s a belief I’ve nurtured so strongly that a few years ago I changed careers simply to contribute whatever I could to help women like Nahomie. At Pathfinder International—where I currently work—we’ve been fighting for more than 50 years to ensure women have access to reproductive health care and family planning. But it can be an uphill battle. Family planning funding is often politicized and even as the need for contraceptive services increases, support for these programs has declined over the last 15 years.
However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Together we can make sure reproductive health is fundamental human right not just in the US, but around the world. Sign Pathfinder’s petition to increase US funding for international reproductive health care and family planning in President Obama’s upcoming FY2010 budget. By taking a stand for women around the world, we can ensure Nahomie and millions like her will not only have the right to reproductive health care, but the ability to actualize their rights through available, accessible services whenever and wherever they need them.
- Jaime-Alexis Fowler
(This blog is posted on behalf of Jaime-Alexis Fowler, Pathfinder International's web content editor. An ardent supporter of women's rights, Jaime-Alexis was struck by the dire health needs of women while working with Kenyan women's micro-lending organizations in 2002. Since then, she has actively promoted accessible health care in the US and the developing world.)