Empower women to plan families

The United Nations Population Fund’s State of World Population 2017 report has warned that failure to give women control over their bodies would deepen gender and other inequalities in the world. The report draws attention to the fact that women and girls worldwide continue to be denied a say in decisions relating to sex, contraception, pregnancy and childbirth leaving them at risk of unwanted pregnancies and abortions. At least 214 million women in developing countries cannot get access to contraceptives. It results in 89 million unwanted pregnancies and 48 million abortions each year, the UNFPA says. Women in the poorest households not only have the least power to decide whether, when, and how often to become pregnant but also, they have the least access to quality healthcare during pregnancy and childbirth. The report underscores the importance of women being given access to birth-control measures. A woman with such access could delay and space births in a way that would allow her to pay more attention to each child. It would also reduce maternal and neo-natal mortality and free her up to take up paid employment outside the house.

Accessing family planning and essential reproductive health commodities is particularly challenging in conflict zones and regions that are in the grip of crises. UNFPA Supplies, which is working to expand women’s access to family planning in conflict zones, is staring at a crisis
itself. It is facing a shortage of funds and this is poised to worsen. The United States, which has been one of UNFPA’s top donors — in 2016, it contributed $69 million to UNFPA — announced earlier this year that it is halting funds to the UNFPA. Other donors have promised to step up their contributions but this may not be enough.

Although successive governments in India have supported family planning measures, women’s access to contraception remains low. Contraceptive coverage for women in the 15-49 years age group in the country is just 56%. Those opting for modern contraceptive methods are even fewer at 50%. The government must pay more attention to female access to family planning. It would help address a range of related issues, including maternal health and mortality, female economic empowerment and gender equality. In addition to stepping up funding for family planning services, women and men should be made aware of its benefits. The economic benefits of improving access to reproductive health services are enormous. Studies indicate that for every $1 invested in family planning services, upto $6 can be saved on public services, from health to housing. For the Indian economy, according to experts, the overall gain from savings and from unleashing female productivity would amount to around $430 billion per year.
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