Gender equality is not possible without abortion and contraception.
It’s Women’s History Month and the world is abuzz with declarations of support for gender equality and women’s rights. But too often, the general narrative that celebrates historical progress on gender issues leaves out abortion and contraception, ignoring the fact that without them gender equality was – and still is – impossible. This year, millions of women and girls will be denied access to abortion, forced to have unintended pregnancies or have unsafe terminations. Unfair restrictions on abortion continue around the world, most recently in the United States, where new state restrictions are being introduced with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn legal protections for abortion established in the 1970s. Meanwhile, more than 200 million people who want modern contraception still do not have access to it – from women living in rural communities, where such services are often inaccessible, to teenagers or unmarried women. to those facing prohibitions on the use of such protection. The stigma and misinformation spread relentlessly by anti-choice groups has resulted in laws that criminalize abortion, suppression of accurate sexual health information, and shaming of people about their reproductive choices. And the culture of silence. Disadvantaged, rural and low-income communities that cannot access private health care or travel to services are most affected. As a result, only 57 percent of women worldwide are making informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive health. How can equality be achieved when we are denied agency over our bodies and health care and when our access to essential, life-saving health care services is limited? It can’t be. This is why the lack of support for universal access to reproductive health care, including abortion and contraception, undermines the world‘s efforts to further gender equality. Gender equality demands access to contraception and safe abortion because, without it, women’s lives are at risk. In Addis Ababa, where I grew up, I saw firsthand what a lack of access to reproductive health information and services can do. Someone I knew died by suicide after getting pregnant because she didn’t know who to turn to. Another girl disappeared from class one day, never to return. Then we heard rumors that she had consumed bleach in an attempt to terminate her pregnancy. To this day I don’t know if she lived or died. The situation today is not much different. In Africa and Latin America, about three-quarters of abortions are unsafe. Globally, about half of abortions are performed by unsafe methods. Women who resort to unsafe abortions are at risk of long-term health complications and the destruction of their lives. But access to abortion and contraception is much more than immediate life-saving health care. As the Africa Director of MSI Reproductive Choices, I help women and girls make informed decisions about their bodies and futures, and I’ve realized that the power of reproductive choices lies in its impact. It is linked to girls staying in education and helping women build careers. It breaks cycles of poverty and encourages women’s political and economic participation. All of these help advance gender equality and support many global development goals. Take education for example. By increasing adolescent access to these health care options, millions more girls could stay in school. Sadly, without them, many girls are denied the opportunity to complete their education. Every year in sub-Saharan Africa, four million adolescent girls drop out of school because of pregnancy. In Niger, only one in 100 girls will finish secondary school. Just one extra year of education can increase a girl’s future earnings by 20 percent, and we should do everything we can to make that happen. Education brings with it opportunities for women’s financial independence, which is another prerequisite for gender equality. When a woman takes control of her fertility, she can break the cycle of poverty and change her life, her family, and the world. Women’s equal participation in the economy has the potential to increase global gross domestic product (GDP) by $28 trillion. On the other hand, denying someone an abortion can create economic hardship for years. Research has found that women in the U.S. who were unable to access abortions were at increased risk of household poverty, debt and bankruptcy, and eviction. Education and economic stability help people become leaders, create social change and exercise political power – activities that are still disproportionately carried out by men. And for a woman, these are tied to her ability to access reproductive health care on her own terms. I often think of the girls I went to school with – whose unintended pregnancies ended their lives – and I imagine what it would be like if they had access to contraception or safe abortion care. How would things have been different if there had been access? They may have continued their education, decided on personal life goals and careers, led change in their communities, and had children if it was right for them. We can do better for the next generation of women and girls. As we continue the important work of advancing women’s rights and expanding access to modern contraception to everyone who wants it, abortion must also be front and center. We should talk more about abortion because it is normal. We need to fund and invest in abortion because it is health care. And we must remove barriers to abortion because it is a human right. It is clear that access to abortion and contraceptives has paved the way for gender equality. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of News Panda.