Have you heard of World Population Day? Don’t worry, I really hadn’t either until a few weeks ago. World Population Day is recognized each year on July 11 in an effort to direct attention to the urgency and importance of population issues. It was started in 1989 by the Governing Council of the U.N. Development Program. This year, the theme is “Family Planning: Empowering People, Developing Nations.” Catchy, right? But it’s also so spot-on: to support family planning is to support social justice. According to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), “Access to safe, voluntary family planning is a human right. It is also central to gender equality and women’s empowerment, and is a key factor in reducing poverty.”
Obviously there are innumerable benefits to every woman in the world having access to modern contraceptives, but let’s look at the stats for a second to really understand just how great the benefits are.
Do you see? 24 million fewer abortions, 6 million fewer miscarriages, 70,000 fewer maternal deaths, 500,000 fewer infant deaths (that’s 30,570,000 fewer deaths each year total) – plus the empowerment of women. And that’s not even all. There are also incredible economic benefits to the increased accessibility of birth control. Let me break this down.
Here’s an interesting statistic for you: for every dollar invested in contraception, the cost of pregnancy-related care is reduced by $1.47. So that means every dollar invested in contraception actually saves $0.47 overall. For severely impoverished countries (or countries with giant amounts of debt… *side-eyes the United States*), that can be a serious help. Just for fun, let’s pretend $1.00 was invested for each of the more than 30 million deaths we just mentioned — that $0.47 per person adds up to over $14 million saved ANNUALLY worldwide just by investing in birth control.
Furthermore, the “lifetime opportunity cost related to adolescent pregnancy” (or the annual income mothers miss out on over their lifetimes) can range from 1% of a country’s annual GDP for big countries like China, to 30% in smaller countries like Uganda. That’s huge. If women were more able to choose when and whether to have children, national GDPs could increase by up to 30%. Do you see how contraceptives can help reduce poverty and aid in global development?
Access to birth control allows a woman (and her partner) to choose when and whether to have children. Thereby, women are more enabled to complete their education, have more freedom in their households, and have more earning power. The economic security of a woman and her family is strengthened. Poverty is reduced, and development happens. Do you see why we need to support family planning?
Barriers to Family Planning
“Okay,” you might be saying, “so why don’t women just take contraceptives if they’re so dang great?” Excellent question, friend. There are a number of reasons why women can’t or don’t use birth control. First of all, women in rural areas often have difficulty traveling to health facilities, either because they’re too far away or don’t exist, or the women have no reasonable means to get there. And when they do make it to the health facilities, a lot of times there aren’t any contraceptives left.
Another reason is the lack of support by partners, families, and communities. Birth control isn’t widely accepted around the world, for a variety of factors. And it’s hard to justify using something that’s going to make you a public disgrace.
Finally, there’s a pretty severe lack of knowledge related to pregnancy and contraceptives around the world. Some women simply don’t understand that they can become pregnant. Others don’t know what kind of contraceptives are available modernly, or they are confused about the health risks.
Efforts to improve access to family planning aren’t exactly straightforward either. Activists must consider cultural and national contexts, like what kinds of birth control are commonly used, if there are stigmas towards using birth control, what kinds of health facilities exist, or maybe even if women are able to go to the health facilities by themselves. There are also questions of economic, geographic, and age differences between countries. Even between “impoverished” countries, poverty does not look the same. Because of these differences, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to making contraceptives accessible worldwide, nor has every way that’s been tried been effective. I was in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010, visiting a tent city, and dozens of kids were playing with blown-up condom balloons. So I take statistics of how big an impact an organization has had with a grain of salt; I’m sure those condom numbers were counted for “how many pregnancies were prevented” when they should be counted for “how many kids had a fun balloon for the afternoon.”
What’s Being Done + What You Can Do
Fortunately, important and powerful groups have made increasing access to family planning a priority. The UNFPA, as already mentioned, does a lot of work in this field. It partners with “governments, NGOs, community-service organizations, faith-based organizations, youth groups, and the private sector,” strengthening “community-based and youth-friendly reproductive health services and [providing] services during humanitarian crises.”
Additionally, the Family Planning Summit will meet in London this July 11 in respect to World Population Day. This summit is in close partnership with the Family Planning 2020 Secretariat, which has a goal to expand access to voluntary family planning to 120 million more women by 2020. The Summit is designed to build on progress made during its 2012 meeting and to reaffirm international support for women and girls to be in charge of their reproductive rights. It will address common barriers to progress and ensure that financial commitments are as effective as possible. In addition to the London meeting, “more than 2500 people will gather at 21 satellite events across Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Indonesia, Malawi, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Thailand and Uganda, demonstrating growing country leadership and support for family planning.”
There are also large organizations like Population Services International (PSI), which is a global nonprofit founded in 1970 and focused on the “encouragement of healthy behavior and affordability of health products.” PSI runs off donations; a donation of $38.96 translates to one healthy year for a mother and her child.
Of course, there are more grassroots organizations in various parts of the world, too. One I know and trust is Heartline Ministries in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. While they don’t explicitly offer contraceptive care, they have an amazing maternity center, offering prenatal classes, safe deliveries, and child development assistance. They also run a women’s education center, empowering women by teaching them profitable skills and money-management techniques. Heartline also has men’s and children’s programs. To make a donation to this life-saving work, go here.
Some companies have started donation programs through the sale of their feminine hygiene products. L., for example, sells menstrual products and condoms and donates one-for-one to developing countries. PRJKT RUBY is a trustworthy online birth control service that has a “take1give1” campaign to donate $0.25 to PSI for each month of oral contraceptives purchased.