On Tuesday, 17 October the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launched its annual state of world population report, Worlds Apart. The report shows that women and girls are experiencing greater inequality than previously in accessing sexual and reproductive health care. The hardest hit are the poorest, youngest and least educated. The implications for these communities in particular, and sustainable development in general, are profound.
“Economic disparities are only part of the inequality story,” according to Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, the former Executive Director UNFPA who died before publication of the report. Many other dimensions feed into each other and need urgent action.
Two of these, the report highlights, are gender inequality and inequalities in realising sexual and reproductive health and rights. These receive far too little attention, especially the latter. Continuing to ignore them will hinder progress towards sustainable human development.
Improved sexual and reproductive health care benefits all
The benefits of improved sexual and reproductive health care for all extend far beyond health. Access to sexual and reproductive health care, including birth control, allows women to chose the spacing and number of births, which reduces mother and child deaths, boosts economies by freeing up women to work, decreases demand for public expenditure in education, housing and sanitation, and leads to smaller families with parents able to spend more on children’s health and education.
Yet many of the world’s poorest women – particularly the youngest, least educated and those living in rural areas – are missing out because such services are lacking, costly or considered inappropriate by their families and communities, experts say.
According to the report an the Guttmacher Institute:
- An estimated 214 million women in developing countries (DCs) have an unmet need for family planning
- 43 per cent of pregnancies in DCs are unplanned
- Unintended pregnancies are linked to increasing poverty and reduced prospects for women’s economic mobility (UNFPA, 2012)
Expanding access to sexual and reproductive health services is only half of the solution. The report concludes that the other half depends on how well we address the other dimensions of inequality that hold women, particularly the poor, back from realising their rights and ambitions, and living their lives on an equal footing to men.
The UNFPA which provides and coordinates family planning in the world’s poorest countries is facing a funding gap of $700 million of what it requires through 2020, following the US cuts to family planning services. This report shows how critical the situation is and where the solutions lie.
Population Matters supports universal access to sexual and reproductive health care. It is one of more than 230 organisations worldwide to support a statement backing the She Decides project – the Dutch government’s initiative to generate funds to counter the cuts. We have also joined more than 400 development, social justice, women’s rights and family planning organisations in signing a joint statement condemning the reinstatement of the gag rule.
Please join the campaign to defend family planning: