Reproductive Rights are Human Rights

Al Jazeera: Let them have contraception

By: Manuela Picq

"The London Summit on Family Planning is happening on July 11. It is an initiative from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK government to build momentum from governments, private sectors and the scientific community around the world to strengthen women’s access to contraception.

Organisers estimate that over 200 million women worldwide lack access to effective methods of contraception, resulting in over 75 millions unintended pregnancies each year.

The focus on contraception is most welcome. Family planning is underfunded, contraceptive needs remain unmet, with obstacles ranging from cultural norms to distribution chains. But family planning requires complex solutions beyond simply increasing the production and distribution of contraceptives.

Family planning has often been a tool of eugenic politics, forced sterilisation in selected populations. It is estimated that between 25 to 50 per cent of Native American women in the US were sterilised without their consent between 1970 and 1976. In California, the War on Poverty initiative financed the forced sterilisation of Latina women in the 1970s. The forced sterilisations of Peruvian women in the name of development under Fujimori in the 1990s continue to stir opposition in that country.

The strategy is to massively increase production of contraceptives in order to massively increase access to contraception. Louise Finer, director of Global Advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights, worries that the initiative is not concerned with strengthening the health system. If it is necessary to produce more contraceptives to make them available to more women, it is also crucial to see, for instance, how comprehensive sexual education will complement greater access to contraception. Pouring money into production and distribution are part of a much larger equation. Women’s right to choose whether and when to have children encompasses access to contraception as much as it entails long-term investment in the health system that will provide it.

We know how often good intentions can go wrong. The Summit has great potential. As discussions unfold, however, it is crucial not to lose sight of the complexity of family planning nor exclude women’s voices and experiences."

Read the complete article on the Al Jazeera website >