Global women’s rights in family planning is key to economic empowerment

Lisa Anderson – WNN Improve It

Ethiopian family at market
A family sits together at the Omo Valley market which is part of Ethiopia’s Mago National Park on September 22, 2012. Controlling family size with a woman’s access to birth control in rural Ethiopia continues to be difficult and hard to come by. Image: Opalpeterliu/Flickr


(WNN/TLW) New York, NEW YORK, U.S.: Voluntary family planning is considered key to improved maternal and child health, economic productivity and social welfare, yet 222 million women in developing nations still lack access to modern contraceptives, according to a new report from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

“This is inexcusable. Family planning is a human right,” UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin said in his foreword to the report, released Wednesday.

“If the global community invested $8.1 billion a year, we could erase the unmet need, and millions more could write the story they want for their own lives,” he said in a statement launching the report.

The report, “State of World Population 2012: By choice, not by chance,” projects there will be a total of 80 million unintended pregnancies in 2012, 40 million of which will end in abortion.

If the gap in access to modern contraception were filled, the report estimated, 54 million of those unintended pregnancies would be averted, as would 26 million abortions.

Obstacles to access to family planning include shortages of contraceptives, poverty, social pressures, gender inequality and discrimination, according to the report.

Lack of access to modern family planning information and methods is costly on many levels to individuals, families and nations, it said.

The price is particularly high for women and children.

“When a woman is able to exercise her reproductive rights, she is more able to benefit from her other rights, such as the right to education,” the report said. “The results are higher incomes, better health for her and her children, and greater decision-making power for her, both in the household and the community.”

One cited study concluded that spacing pregnancies by three to five years could reduce infant mortality by 46 percent in developing countries.

Another study found that Bangladeshi women who used family planning earned wages one third higher than those of their counterparts who had not used family planning.

“In my own country, Nigeria, a recent study showed that if the fertility rate fell by just one child per woman, annual per capita incomes would rise over the course of 20 years – from $1,452 to $1,640,” said UNFPA’s Osotimehin. “Multiply that amount by the total number of Nigerians, and you could see the economy grow by at least $30 billion.  That dollar invested, per couple, per year, is the fulfillment of a human right that becomes an economic powerhouse.”

The consequences also are felt beyond the developing world, according to the report.

In the United States, a study indicated that motherhood during adolescence reduces a girl’s chance of graduating from high school by up to 10 percent and reduces her annual income as an adult by $1,000 to $2,400.

The report points out that “family planning is one of the most cost-effective public health and sustainable development interventions ever developed.”

It concluded that access to family planning can produce healthier people who can work more productively, live longer and have greater opportunities to invest in their children and in the pension and social welfare systems that protect the elderly and translate into economic growth.


Lisa Anderson is the current editor and North American correspondent for Thomson Reuters Foundation TrustLaw. She has also been a fellow at the Columbia Journalism Review at Columbia University in New York, and has spent 25 years at the Chicago Tribune as a correspondent and New York bureau chief. Specializing in crisis, political and cultural trends reporting, Anderson has written on a wide range of subjects from around the U.S. as well as covering news in Europe, Asia and Africa.