Compared to other African nations, South Africa has one of the most progressive laws on women’s reproductive health. The South African Bill of Rights affirms the “right to reproductive health care and bodily integrity.” The 1994 Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act granted their women access to abortion services in state clinics within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Despite these laws that make abortion legal in South Africa, reproductive services face social stigma and are not widely accessible or available. These obstacles push underage girls into performing illegal abortions. These operations are not only risky to the fetus, but to the girl as well.

In South Africa, around 80,000 babies are born to girls under the age of 18. Underage girls giving birth have a higher risk of miscarriage and maternal mortality.

Starting in June, a new contraceptive device will be available free to women at all state clinics. The price of the device is normally 1,700 South African Rand (roughly $157) at a private doctor. South African Health Minister Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi launched this plan at the National Assembly, calling it the “biggest family planning program South Africa has ever seen.”

The contraceptive is a tiny sub-dermal implant that is placed below the skin of the arm. It releases hormones that prevent ovaries from releasing eggs and also thickens the cervical mucous.

It lasts for three years and is expected to reduce unwanted births, illegal abortions, teenage pregnancies and maternal mortality. It does not protect against HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Compared to contraceptive injections that could take up to a year for the effects to disappear, this implant can be removed at any moment and its effects would wear off in only a few weeks.

Contraception gives girls and women more freedom and control over their lives. It prevents early pregnancies until they choose to give birth. This allows girls to develop skills, to enter the workforce and contribute to their families and the economy.

Numerous research studies show that women’s empowerment and economic growth are closely connected. In countries where women’s empowerment is progressing, its economic growth is also improving as well. It may also be argued that economic development contributes to the advancement of women’s rights and empowerment.

Developing nations can look towards South Africa’s example of promoting women’s empowerment to decrease population growth and reduce maternal mortality, illegal abortions and unwanted births. Although contraceptives face stigma and are spurned by various societies, it can also provide the answer to a multitude of problems.

– Sarah Yan

Sources: Afrika, The New Age
Photo: Sunrise Ranch

On an average blog, an average post managed to make headlines. With over 3 million views, Linda Tirado’s blog post, “Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or, poverty thoughts,” has shed new light on poverty in America. Tirado is a wife, mother, student and employee. Her family lives below the poverty line and faces daily struggles to make ends meet.

Tirado articulates a widespread feeling that persists among families in poverty. She explains that stress, uncertainty and depression come along with financial woes. Tired of being misunderstood, Tirado took to her blog to respond to society’s misconceptions about poverty.

With cuts to food stamps occurring at the beginning of November, the welfare debate in the U.S. has recently been a hot topic. Many assume that people who are in poverty are responsible for their own bleak situation. The reality is, and Tirado makes sure to point this out, that those living in poverty were born into it and are never given the resources or the tools to get out.

Tirado’s post is written as a slightly unorganized stream of thoughts which she explains are constantly occurring in the back of her mind. She describes her average day of school, two jobs, and domestic responsibilities, while trying to keep her depression and exhaustion from getting in the way of her duties. Without knowing what will happen tomorrow, Tirado smokes a cigarette, puts her children to bed and fights on.

Tirado has received a lot of backlash because of this post. Anonymous commenters have urged her to stop having children, to not smoke cigarettes which are destroying her health, and to get a real job. It is because of these insensitive and uninformed responses that Tirado wrote her post in the first place. She explains that she had children because she had no access to affordable birth control, she smokes because she cannot afford depression and anxiety medication, and she is often turned down from jobs because she does not fit the company’s image.

There have also been positive responses to Tirado’s post. She has started a “go fund me” site and has received more than her annual salary in donations. Her post has opened doors for her to write a book and be a professional speaker. All this positive reinforcement has encouraged Tirado, and other families living in poverty, to continue searching for a light in the face of hopelessness.

The importance of Tirado’s post goes beyond her newfound opportunities. Her raw words have opened the public’s eye to the true nature of poverty. Often misconstrued as the plight of lazy and uneducated people, poverty is the result of systemic and social failure. Tirado has granted other families in poverty a platform on which they can be heard.

Alessandra Luppi

Sources: KillerMartinis, The Huffington Post, Huff Post Live
Photo: The Equity Factor

Uganda High School Contraception Women Reproductive Rights
In an effort to reduce the number of women who die from maternal complications, Uganda’s government is considering a plan to provide contraception to every Ugandan women between the ages of 14 and 18.

In Uganda, an estimated 16 women die every day from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. For every woman who dies, an additional 15 women develop complications, such as fistulas. These statistics make it unlikely that Uganda will achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of reducing maternal mortality by 75 percent by the 2015 deadline.

During a meeting organized by the Ugandan health ministry earlier this month, Sarah Opendi, the state minister for primary health care, said it was “unethical” to allow Uganda’s female citizens to continue to die from easily preventable complications

Among the most fatal of these complications are hemorrhaging, high blood pressure, and contraction of infectious diseases due to weakened immune systems. However, many young women also die from self-induced abortions.

“You don’t know what some of these girls go through,” Opendi said. “When they can’t confide in anyone and are desperate to get the fetus out they will do anything.”

Afraid to confide in their parents and usually impregnated by classmates who are also unable to support a child,  many girls try to terminate their own pregnancies, and often die in the process.

To address this problem, the Ugandan government plans to set up youth centers in schools and hospitals, where young girls can receive proper counseling. The government is likely to also provide condoms and contraceptive pills.

John Cooper, the executive director of Uganda Family Planning Consortium, believes that every woman should have a child by choice, not chance. Currently, of the Ugandan women who get pregnant, half of the pregnancies are unwanted.

“Now, we can’t want to reduce the numbers of women who dies while giving birth and not want to provide women with contraception that can reduce their fertility,” said Cooper.

The Ugandan minister must first convince several critics before the government’s plan to provide contraception to every woman between 14 and 18 is implemented. But this may be the country’s only option. Uganda’s population currently stands at over 34 million, and the country’s fertility rate is 6.7 percent. Moreover, women in rural areas lacking medical resources may produce twice as many children.

If the movement to provide contraception passes, the government must turn to its next issue in the fight to lower maternal mortality and limit population: the need to allocate more funding and resources to Uganda’s impoverished rural regions.

– Scarlet Shelton

Sources: New Vision, Index Mundi, all Africa
Photo: Books For Africa

Of all the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the UN, those pertaining to the reproductive health of women seem most likely to be unmet when the 2015 deadline hits. Whatever the other MDG successes, the failure to meet the reasonable objectives set for women should be remembered as a defining symbol of the UN’s ability to get things done in 2015. The issue of reproductive health in and of itself is insufficient to merit that reaction, but it does stand as a weather-vane to all kinds of gender-related issues; it points to a future of injustice.

The Millennium Development Goals in question were meant to achieve universal reproductive health and reduce maternal mortality rates by 75 percent of their 1990 levels. Currently, the rates remain double their intended 2015 targets. As Eva Joly, Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Development, observed, “It is a failure of the fight against poverty…but it is also linked to other questions.”

The “questions” which have stymied progress on the issue are mainly cultural in nature. Throughout the world, for many hundreds or even thousands of years, women have been viewed as an inferior sex, in some times and places ranking below valued animals such as horses. From the spatial organization of public and private spaces and places, the norms of social interaction, and the ratio of economic independence, to acceptable activities, clothing, and even mentality, women have long been the second sex.

In failing to keep its MDGs, the UN is not only harming today and tomorrow’s women biologically, it fails to make any headway in provoking a cultural revolution which will allow women to be recognized as equally valuable human beings.

Such sentiments may be senseless to men living in particularly sexist cultures. Indeed, there is a strong argument to make for abstaining from building a homogenous global culture which, conveniently enough, is predicated on modern, Western values, and sees all deviation from that standard as unhealthy, unjust, and immoral. Cultural diversity makes humanity strong, and those who pine for days of a culturally unified humanity may wish to second-guess some of their assumptions.

But the UN has made it clear that it does not intend to allow some cultures to continue to exist according to their traditional ways if those traditions conflict with what the UN perceives to be universal rights. And in that light, the UN has failed to convince these disparate cultures that the lives of their women are worth the cost to be saved from death or trauma in childbirth.

When 2015 comes around, the UN will doubtlessly celebrate their many achievements, as well they should. The effort to meet the Millennium Development Goals has been well spent, and many of the results from it are incontrovertibly good. But the UN should not forget that in this major arena, it has failed.

– Alex Pusateri

Sources: Euractiv, The Atlantic, AWID
Photo: The Gaurdian

Design a Condom to Improve Contraception Access
In 2013, 222 million women in the developing world still do not have access to modern contraception. That is 222 million women unable to responsibly plan their families; without the ability to control their own fertility, they are unable to plan a stable future for themselves.

In developing countries, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are leading causes of death for women. Responsible family planning would not only significantly impact maternal mortality rates, but would also provide the opportunity for millions of girls to stay in school and potentially lift entire communities out of poverty.

Global Poverty Project and Women Deliver have partnered to launch It Takes Two, a campaign focused on improving access to sexual and reproductive health information and services around the world. The campaign will use the Global Citizen online platform to extend its message and generate support. It Takes Two hopes to capitalize on the game-like atmosphere of Global Citizen’s points rewards system to attract a substantial crowd of supporters.

How has It Takes Two managed to turn modern contraception into a game?

Design your own condoms.

It Takes Two is sponsoring a contest in which participants submit a condom wrapper design by July 21st, and the 10 winning designers will receive free condoms featuring their personalized wrapper. Everyone who enters will have their design profiled in the It Takes Two condom gallery, and be entered for a chance to win tickets to concerts to over 70 participating artists such as Kings of Leon, Beyoncé, Tim McGraw or One Direction.

It Takes Two wants everyone, creative or not, to step up and help spread the word that everyone has the right to plan their lives because a woman’s choices shouldn’t be made for her based on her socioeconomic level or her country of origin.

– Dana Johnson

Source: Artist Direct, It Takes Two
Photo: Global Giving

Expanding Contraceptive Accessibility
Women Deliver, a global advocacy organization that speaks for improved health and wellbeing for girls and women around the world, held a conference in Malaysia earlier this month called “Women Deliver 2013″. One of the most exciting strategies discussed at the conference involved contraceptive accessibility for women in developing countries. In 2012, global leaders pledged more than $2.6 billion to provide women and girls in developing countries with “voluntary access to contraceptive services, information, and supplies by 2020.”

Speakers at Women Deliver 2013 noted the importance of providing this kind of healthcare for women that have no access to it. Melinda Gates stated, “Putting women at the center of development and delivering solutions that meet their needs will result in huge improvements in health, prosperity, and quality of life.” She added, “When women have access to contraceptives they’re healthier, their children are healthier, and their families thrive.”

Many people do not recognize the significance of this issue, yet an estimated 150 million women worldwide do not have contraceptive accessibility they desire. In developing countries, pregnancy can be very dangerous for women and lead to greater risks of death or injury of both the mother and her children in childbirth. In addition, women in developing countries face a greater risk of death after bearing too many children and often are not allowed the necessary time for healing in between pregnancies. By providing contraception to delay or prevent pregnancies, young women in developing countries can minimize the risks associated with childbirth, care for the other children they have, and even have new opportunities for education or supporting themselves through work.

Leaders from Senegal, Indonesia, and the Philippines, among others, have pledged to expand family planning programs and access. According to UNFPA (the United Nations Population Fund) Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, “These countries show that we can make an impact on women’s access to reproductive health if we rally the necessary political will and financial commitments.” He continues, “Expanding access to contraceptives is one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to save lives and ensure the health and wellbeing of future generations.”

These strategies and investments could help to foster healthy populations, as well as allow women and girls to spend more time learning and becoming independent, instead of spending years of their lives raising and caring for their children.

– Sarah Rybak

Source: Ghana Business News
Photo: Facebook

Victoria’s Secret Model Erin Heatherton has teamed up with the Global Poverty Project for a new campaign called, It Takes Two. The campaign aims to raise awareness of, increase demand for, and improve access to family planning information and services around the world. The announcement coincides with the Women Deliver Global Conference in Kuala Lumpur to discuss the global health and empowerment of girls and women.

Erin Heatherton and the It Takes two campaign aim to motivate young men and women to take action in support of improving access to family planning services and information. They hope this will place pressure on governments, and to strive for significant progress and change.

Hugh Evans, co-founder and CEO of The Global Poverty Project believes that women are being denied a fundamental right when they are denied access to contraception. It Takes Two will utilize the Global Poverty Project’s online Global Citizen Platform to track and engage people.

The initiative is partnered with Women Deliver. Founder of Women Deliver, Jill Sheffield, has expressed her excitement to be a part of the campaign. She is looking forward to working with a project to help motivate countries to achieve their Family Planning 2020 goals and commitments. She believes that girls, boys, women and men all need to demand that their governments distribute family planning information and services. Sheffield believes this will give women more power and control over their lives.

Heatherton is also excited about her capacity to be part of such an important project. She feels that the lack of modern contraception to many women around the world is one of the world most pressing matters. She also believes that lack of contraception affects men and women, as well as a problem that should not be affected by a family’s socio-economic status. Everyone deserves fair access to family planning methods.

It Takes Two will launch first in the United States and second in Uganda. It will later expand to eight other countries. It is partnered with IPPF, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, UNFPA, Marie Stopes International and more.

– Caitlin Zusy
Source: Artist Direct
Photo: Global Poverty Project Tumblr

New Pope, New Take on Contraceptives?The beginning of this March is an important time for the Catholic Church, as Pope Benedict XVI resigns from the papacy. With the seat of St. Peter empty, what global issues will the new Pope face?

Catholics and non-Catholics alike realize that the Pope and his decisions have an influence in many areas throughout the world. The next Pope, whoever that will be, is going to inherit the Church in a time of crisis. While there is a myriad of problems to be dealt with within the Church, one issue related to international poverty will be at the forefront: the use of birth control.

Pope Benedict famously stirred up no small bit of controversy in the international aid community back in 2009 when he claimed that the use of condoms does nothing to prevent the spread of HIV and that the availability of condoms actually makes the problem worse. Around the same time, the Pope offered a rare example in which the use of condoms would be acceptable in the case of a male prostitute using one. Such comments brought about different feelings about where the Church would be going with the issue; would it stay conservative or consider altering its’ stance on condoms?

The next Pope will have an opportunity to make his own statements about birth-control and perhaps his stance may be slightly more accepting than his predecessors. It would be irrational to expect the Catholic Church to reverse its position on the issue of birth control, but it is also important to remember the relationship between overpopulation and poverty. Even the smallest bit of change could make a difference for millions and hopefully, it will start to come about with the new Pope.

– Kevin Sullivan

Source: The Guardian