Women continue to suffer forms of discrimination in many countries across the globe; from child and early marriage, forced marriage, gender-based violence, as well as barriers to participation in education and employment. Sexual and reproductive health and rights are not only crucial for women’s empowerment and family planning — both are necessary for the smaller families required for a sustainable future.
Barriers to equality
In most, if not all, countries, women do not have as much power as men. This can mean they are disadvantaged in multiple ways, including accessing education, having economic independence and being able to exercise free choice when it comes to family size.
Traditions of early marriage further reduce opportunities for education, autonomy and authority. Early marriage often leads to larger families and can also result in greater risk of maternal death and injury related to childbirth. Following marriage, a woman’s lack of economic independence coupled with patriarchal traditions may mean that her ability to determine the number and spacing of children will be limited.
Women are also more likely to be vulnerable to violence, sexual assault and rape, both within and outside marriage.
Equality and empowerment
Population Matters strongly supports women’s empowerment and gender equality, including:
- Support for the ways women are empowering themselves
- Ensuring full participation of girls and women in education;
- Allowing full participation of women in personal and family decisions — especially those relating to childbearing;
- Ending the practice of child marriage, which can violate girls’ rights to health, education and opportunities;
- Granting women full equality under laws and property rights;
- Ensuring businesses run by women have access to financing and government support; and
- Providing accessible childcare to enable women to balance work.
We also believe that investing in women’s education, empowerment and family planning is a major step towards reducing our population numbers to sustainable levels.
Read more about women’s rights.
Family planning policies and rights
Poor reproductive health is a leading cause of illness and death for women in developing countries. While family planning services are improving, they remain inadequate. Even in developed nations, unintended pregnancies remain common while sex education and family planning are under threat from policies and funding restrictions.
Meeting unmet needs for contraception
The Guttmacher Institute estimates that more than 200 million women worldwide have an unmet need for modern contraception. This refers to the number of women of reproductive age (around 15 – 49) who do not wish to become pregnant but are not using any method of contraception.
An unmet need may exist because a woman or her partner cannot access contraception, for instance due to age restrictions or lack of availability. Even where contraception is readily available, take-up and use are limited by the degree of knowledge and cultural acceptance, the level of female empowerment and affordability. This means that many people have much larger families than the global average, with some countries averaging five or six children per woman. In some places, high infant mortality rates can contribute to higher birth rates because parents have more children to compensate for those they have lost.
Delivering contraceptive services in Africa
Global aid for family planning
Earlier this year, the United States government under President Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy, better known as the “Global Gag Rule”. This policy blocks U.S. federal funding for non-governmental organisations that provide abortion counselling or referrals, advocate to decriminalise abortion, or expand abortion services. Considering that the US was until recently the world’s largest funder of family planning services through overseas aid, this policy has left a major vacuum that governments and other institutions such as UNFPA and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are struggling to fill.
In response to the impact of the Global Gag Rule, more partners and countries have signed on to the Family Planning 2020 targets and have pledged their support for ensuring women’s empowerment and reproductive rights. At the 2017 London Family Planning Summit in particular, at least $2.5 billion in new funding commitments for reproductive health services was raised. Additionally, a new global movement called She Decides launched to support the fundamental rights of girls and women to decide freely and for themselves about their sexual lives, including whether, when, with whom and how many children they have. Population Matters is one of more than 230 organisations worldwide to support a statement backing the She Decides initiative.
To learn more about how to protect global family planning from US cuts and support She Decides, visit here.
Read more about contraception and lack of reproductive health.
Next: Conflict & migration