Have you ever crossed your fingers, hoping not to get pregnant?
Every day in the world’s poorest countries, women cross their fingers. They cross their fingers that when they reach the clinic—5 miles away—it will be open. They cross their fingers, hoping that the clinic will be staffed by a health care provider who can answer their questions about family planning truthfully and without bias. They cross their fingers that they won’t get an STD.
Will their finger-crossing work? Will the clinic have their preferred method of contraception? Will their partners be supportive? Will they be allowed to space their next pregnancy so that they can provide their other children with good food and keep them in school—or perhaps go back to school themselves?
Too often, women face extreme barriers to sexual and reproductive health care. They shouldn’t have to.
After four years working for Pathfinder International, a global reproductive health nonprofit, here are the top ten barriers I’ve seen. Want to break these down? Join me in supporting Pathfinder’s breaking barriers campaign. Every $1 donated before midnight on September 30th is matched by $2 by a generous anonymous donor. Let’s break these barriers together!
1. Gender inequality: Women often can’t access reproductive health care because of systemic gender inequality. For instance, a woman in desperate need of emergency obstetric care, may have to have her husband’s permission to go to a clinic.
2. Stock outs: For many reasons, including supply chain issues, poor planning, or lack of funding, clinics often run out of contraceptives.
3. Lack of skilled service providers: In many areas, the number of service providers like doctors, nurses, and midwives is limited, and those that exist are often under-trained.
4. Distance to health service point: In rural communities, health centers, clinics, and hospitals can be far away or too difficult to reach.
5. Misinformation in communities: Whether it’s about side effects of contraceptives (like they accumulate in your stomach) or the transmission of HIV, myths and misinformation about reproductive health can take many forms.
6. Opportunity costs: For some women, the time needed to go to a clinic, or travel to a hospital means losing out on other valuable time working in the field, traveling to market, or preparing food for their children.
7. Service provider bias: Just because a nurse is trained in providing a service, does not mean he/she provides it without bias. This can take the form of refusing to discuss contraceptive use with adolescents, for instance, or turning away a woman who is seeking abortion counseling.
8. Legislative and legal barriers: Restrictive laws and policies can have a real—and sometimes devastating—impact on the people Pathfinder serves. This is particularly challenging in relation to safe abortion services.
9. Cultural norms and traditions: In some cultures women can only seek services from another women; yet, female providers are limited. In others, religious leaders resist the idea of sexual and reproductive health services, such as contraception.
10. Lack of funding: Global reproductive health is significantly underfunded. More than 200 million women want, but lack access to contraceptives. As government budgets become tighter, international funding is even more at risk.