Women and Barriers to Reproductive Health: What Can We Do?
By: Caitlyn Beatty
A college age girl in the United States, a 30 year-old Norwegian woman, and a 14 year-old girl in Pakistan all have one thing in common: they will all have to face reproductive health issues in their lifetimes.
Reproductive health covers a wide variety of issues for women of child-bearing age who are struggling with this issue across the globe. As is the case with many feminist issues, problems with access to reproductive health intersect with race and class struggles. Reproductive issues vary from country to country. These issues include access to family planning, the right to a safe and legal abortion, and the prevention of diseases like HPV and HIV/AIDS. The burden of reproductive health has unfairly fallen upon women for too long. The reproductive health crisis is underfunded and one of the most hotly debated issues in current events. A closer look shows that when we invest in women’s reproductive health initiatives everyone wins. When women are healthy the benefits are felt in their families and communities.
The top barriers to women’s access to reproductive health include:
- Spousal Approval
- Parental Consent
These barriers keep women from fully participating in society. Restrictions to family planning and reproductive hygiene severely limit a woman’s ability to be independent and successful. These restrictions set back women’s economic mobility, limit average life spans, and productivity. The UNFPA’s Executive Director at the World Bank, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid called it a fact that “the right to sexual and reproductive health is essential for advancing women’s empowerment and equality between women and men.”
So what would happen if we changed the situation? According to UN Women’s Executive Director Michelle Bachelet, “When women are healthy and educated and can participate in the economy, the benefits extend to their children, communities and nations. Poverty and malnutrition decline, living standards and economic growth increases.” Access to contraception helps limit many other problems in reproductive health. Under the Clinton administration significant headway was made in increasing access to contraception and as a result, the number of abortions and incidences of teen pregnancy decreased.
Investing in reproductive health is a smart economic choice for countries looking to increase productivity in financial stability. Women comprise a significant portion of the labor force — 60 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa and 40 percent of the global labor force.
Complications from reproductive issues like maternal morbidity or unsafe abortions lower the labor supply. The labor supply is also more productive if women have access to family planning, as it allows them to delay child bearing until they have accumulated skills. The financial stability of houses also increases when countries invest in reproductive health. A family’s ability to limit the number of children they have and to space out times between births allows families to accumulate more wealth and earnings. And of course, when women are healthy and productive, their children’s prospects for the future are better. An investment in the reproductive health of mothers is an investment in a country’s future.
The reproductive health crisis requires a change in society and the culture surrounding women as well as comprehensive reforms in women’s health procedure and access. How can we join the movement? Staying informed is the first and most important step. The United Nation’s entity “Women Watch” and UNWOMEN provide good information on the current status of reproductive health around the world. You can read more at: UN Women and UN Women Watch.
The World Bank also provides insight into how women can drive economic growth. There is a labyrinth of information surrounding reproductive health. Because there are so many different factors that affect women’s health, understanding the subject can be difficult. Legislation and debate surrounding reproductive health is often very personal. Keeping an open mind and a caring, and understanding attitude is key to helping women gain their rights and success.
Getting involved is the second step to joining the reproductive health movement. Look into how your elected officials feel about reproductive health. Electing officials that share fair views on reproductive issues is imperative for women affected by US reproductive health policy. Let your elected official know that this issue is important to you. There are some awesome organizations working to end inequalities in reproductive health abroad as well. You can find them here, here, and here. Donating your time, your voice, or money are all helpful ways to get involved.