Social Justice Requires Family Planning

Written by Elspeth Dehnert | Published: February 20, 2015

What do poverty elimination, gender equality, and educational and health equity have in common? None of them can be fully realized until everyone around the world has the ability to plan their pregnancies. In other words, social justice requires universal access to family planning.

And what better time to reflect on this crucial link than today, February 20—the United Nations-designated World Day of Social Justice.

You see, people who can’t access modern contraception—and, in turn, aren’t able to choose whether and when to have children—are less likely to reach their full potential. An unplanned pregnancy can severely hamper a person’s ability to get an education, obtain economic security, and, in the worst case, maintain good health. Not surprisingly, it’s women and girls who bear the brunt of these devastating consequences.

Many women—most of whom live in the developing world—die as a result of not being able to delay, space, or avoid pregnancy. In fact, about 800 women worldwide perish every day due to pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications even though most of these deaths could have been prevented.

For those women and girls who do survive childbirth, caring for a newborn can make finishing school and holding down a job an impossible feat. As a result, many women will be prevented from reaching the same level of economic and personal success as their male counterparts.

While most women in the United States are able to acquire contraceptive methods, some 225 million women in the developing world aren’t using one even though they don’t want to get pregnant.

But for roughly $25 a year, that could all change. The average cost of a blouse here in the United States could provide a woman living in a developing country with life-saving family planning services.

Investments in this arena will certainly help improve the lives of women and families, but they can also help developing countries achieve accelerated economic growth. Evidence from around the world shows that investments in reproductive health—specifically, as it pertains to youth—are critical to reducing poverty and increasing educational levels.

Having the ability to prevent pregnancy, survive childbirth, and enjoy equal opportunities is a basic human right. And it is up to all of us to call on our prospective governments to make a real investment in international family planning—otherwise, the world may never achieve true social justice.