Imagine a line of dominos stretched out as far as the eye can see, with additional lines branching off into the distance. This web of dominos represents the multiple connections between family planning and every dimension of sustainable development. What many still don’t comprehend is how large and far reaching this web truly is.
We’ll begin with a simple and intuitive causal relationship: voluntary use of contraception prevents unintended pregnancies. Unintended pregnancies result in thousands of deaths globally and many more disabilities each year. Many unplanned pregnancies end in abortion. Almost half of the 40 million abortions performed each year are unsafe, placing nearly 20 million women at risk for infection, hemorrhage, disability, and death. Thus, contraception prevents unintended pregnancies and saves women’s lives.
Dr. Ward Cates, President Emeritus at FHI 360, visits health workers that are involved with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Urban Health Initiative (UHI) in India.
And the benefits of family planning don’t end with women. Families using contraception have fewer, healthier children and reduced economic burden. Children born to mothers who have used modern contraception in planning their families are not only more likely to have a mother, and one who is healthy, they also are more likely to have been breast fed for longer and received more parental attention, support and resources than children born in to families that were not planned. All of these factors increase the chances that they will survive infancy into childhood. Therefore, family planning also saves children’s lives. Moreover, if after childhood girls and women are given control over their fertility, they are more likely to stay in school and to get jobs. Educated, employed women are in turn more likely to use contraception, thus re-initiating the virtuous cycle of benefits that family planning brings to women and their families.
The benefits still don’t end there. Ensuring that we can feed our growing population while protecting the planet has quickly become one of the most pressing challenges in sustainable development. Regions of the world with the highest unmet need for family planning are already forced to bear the burden of climate change effects to which they have contributed the least. These effects include drought and famine. Turning an extra acre of forest into tilled land is not a choice for a woman without access to reproductive health resources. It is a matter of survival. And it is a preventable scenario. Right now more than 200 million women worldwide want to plan and time their pregnancies but are unable to do so for lack of information and access to contraceptive resources. If the percentage of women with unmet family planning needs remains constant, developing country populations are expected hit 9.7 billion by 2050, and 25.8 billion by 2100. By filling this need, we could greatly relieve some of the combined pressures being placed on resources and communities, including a growing demand for food.
The right and ability of women and couples to plan their families is not peripheral to the aims and objectives of Rio+20. Indeed, the call for greater attention to women’s rights and issues at Rio+20 is growing into a crescendo. Women’s Major Group is mobilizing women across the world to share their stories and ensure that women’s rights are front and center on the agenda. Over 100 of the world’s leading scientific academies have called upon world leaders to enact rational, evidence-based responses to sustainable development challenges, including global access to comprehensive reproductive health resources.
Until now, too few people have been aware and too few leaders willing to acknowledge the essential role that family planning plays in achieving sustainable development. Rio+20 is our chance to tip this pivotal domino piece forward, and witness the measurable cascade of progress it evokes.