On International Women’s Day 2021 we pause to examine progress toward gender equality. Despite a year of challenge and hardship, we are hopeful and believe that the world that emerges from the pandemic can and should be one that’s more healthy, resilient and equal.
At MSI, a positive outlook is at our core. It’s what kept out teams moving, adapting and innovating to keep services going throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Access to contraception and choice is essential to gender equality, and so we forged new partnerships, revolutionized digital access to healthcare and traversed boundaries to reach people in rural communities with contraception and safe abortion care.
Our courageous providers are motivated by the transformational benefits of reproductive choice. Because it’s not just the individual that benefits from a decision about their own life, body, and future. Access to these choices means more girls can stay in school, enter the workforce as empowered decision-makers, and play a central role in the sustainability of their communities. And that is how equality will be achieved.
An MSI doctor at a center in India.
Too many women and girls still don’t have choice
Currently, across the world, not everyone is able to make these decisions. In low- and middle-income countries, 218 million women want, but are unable to access, contraception. Adolescents are particularly affected. They are nearly twice as likely to lack access compared to all women of reproductive age.
We know that if girls and young women are unable to access contraception, it can rob them of their education. Research from the Population Council across six Sub-Saharan African countries found that nearly all adolescent girls who have ever been pregnant are no longer in school. In fact, 1 in 4 girls in Malawi dropped out of school for this reason. As long as girls and young women are denied reproductive choice, we are missing an opportunity to address one of the key perpetuators of inequality: the lack of access to education for girls.
Completing education doesn’t just open opportunities for the individual girl. It also leads to benefits for the community, local economy, and future generations. For every additional year of education received, a woman’s future earnings increase 10 to 25%. When women are able to enter the workforce, it can help close the gender pay gap, with the potential of boosting global GDP by $28 trillion by 2025.
With access to contraception, Christiana was able to pursue a career as a teacher and hairdresser.
We can’t let crises block access to choice
From COVID-19 to the climate crisis, we know that significant challenges lie ahead for women and girls around the world. Former crises have shown that when disasters occur, women’s access to reproductive choice is restricted, while the need for reproductive healthcare and risk of sexual and gender-based violence rises. This doesn’t just impede advancement toward gender equality, it costs lives. The pandemic has harmed women in particular, widening economic inequalities, reducing access to women’s healthcare and increasing rates of gender-based violence.
Climate change is another crisis that affects women disproportionately. Of the 26 million people estimated to have been displaced by the climate crisis, 80% have been women. Reproductive choice can help women and their families to build resilience against the climate crisis, guarding against unintended pregnancies when facing depleting natural resources and potential upheaval. We must protect access for these women, when needed most.
An MSI team member waves to clients in Senegal.
Let’s choose to build a more equal future!
It’s clear that access to reproductive choice helps build healthy, educated, and economically empowered communities. Challenging inequality through the provision of contraception is a crucial step towards gender equality.
We envision this future as one where every individual can make a choice that’s best for them. Where girls have the freedom to pursue the lives they dream of. Where communities are better equipped, and more resilient, to withstand the changes of the future. Choice is the foundation upon which this vision is based. Let’s make it a reality.
As the world marks #InternationalWomensDay2021 with the #ChoosetoChallenge hashtag, join us! Speak out to raise awareness of the role of reproductive choice in challenging inequality and building a better world.