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Worldwide contraception support vital

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UNFPA, Dr Natalia Kanem, Worlds Apart, sexual health services, population 2017, pregnant women and girls, Women and girls don’t stop getting pregnant or giving birth in times of crisis.

Unless inequality is urgently tackled and the poorest women empowered to make their own decisions about their lives, countries could face unrest and threats to peace and development, according to The State of World Population 2017, published by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The costs of inequalities, including in sexual and reproductive health and rights, could extend to the entire global community’s goals, added the UNFPA report, entitled ‘Worlds Apart: Reproductive Health and Rights in an Age of Inequality’.

Failure to provide reproductive health services, including family planning, to the poorest women can weaken economies and sabotage progress towards the number one sustainable development goal: to eliminate poverty.

Economic inequality reinforces and is reinforced by other inequalities, including those in women’s health, where only a privileged few are able to control their fertility, and, as a result, can develop skills, enter the paid labour force and gain economic power.

“Inequality in countries today is not only about the haves and have nots,” UNFPA’s Executive Director Dr Natalia Kanem, pictured here holding a copy of the report, said.

“Inequality is increasingly about the cans and cannots.

“Poor women who lack the means to make their own decisions about family size or who are in poor health because of inadequate reproductive health care dominate the ranks of the cannots.”

In most developing countries, the poorest women have the fewest options for family planning, the least access to antenatal care and are most likely to give birth without the assistance of a doctor or midwife.

Limited access to family planning translates into 89 million unintended pregnancies and 48 million abortions in developing countries annually.

This not only harms women’s health, but also restricts women’s ability to join or stay in the paid labour force and move towards financial independence, the report argues.

Lack of access to related services, such as affordable child care, also stops women from seeking jobs outside the home.

For women who are in the labour force, the absence of paid maternity leave and employers’ discrimination against those who become pregnant amount to a motherhood penalty, forcing many women to choose between a career and parenthood.

“Countries that want to tackle economic inequality can start by tackling other inequalities, such as in reproductive health and rights, and tearing down social, institutional and other obstacles that prevent women from realizing their full potential,” Dr Kanem said.

‘Worlds Apart: Reproductive Health and Rights in an Age of Inequality’ recommends focusing on the furthest behind first, in line with the United Nations blueprint for achieving sustainable development and inclusive societies by 2030.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has “envisaged a better future, one where we collectively tear down the barriers and correct disparities,” the report says.

“Reducing all inequalities needs to be the aim. Some of the most powerful contributions can come from realising…women’s reproductive rights.”

In humanitarian contexts, one in five women of childbearing age is likely to be pregnant.

And up to 70 per cent of women face, or have been survivors of gender-based violence in crises, with life-long physical, emotional, social, and economic consequences.

UNFPA’s humanitarian actions focus on providing sexual and reproductive health services, and promoting access to family planning as well as preventing and responding to violence against women and girls.

However, UNFPA’s 2017 humanitarian response received only USD215 million, just 51 per cent of the USD424 million required.

For this year, UNFPA is appealing for USD463 million to provide life-saving services to about 30 million women of childbearing age, including over 4 million pregnant women, who will be affected by humanitarian crises in countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Central African Republic, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria.

In 2017, UNFPA reached 16 million people with humanitarian assistance in 58 countries.

This included establishing 880 mobile health clinics and supporting 2,280 health facilities to provide emergency obstetric care, and providing life-saving services to more than 375,000 gender violence survivors.

In the past year, conflict was the main driver of humanitarian needs, and UNFPA anticipates this will remain as the main reason for humanitarian response through 2018.

UNFPA will continue to prioritise humanitarian action, putting women and girls in crises, and in fragile systems, in the forefront of its response.

“UNFPA views a woman’s right to sexual and reproductive health services as the underpinning of our humanitarian activities,” Dr Kanem said.

“These services are not optional.

“They are lifesaving.

“Women and girls don’t stop getting pregnant or giving birth in times of crisis, and they are at heightened risk for sexual assault and violence in conflict and complex emergencies.

“The world must come together to ensure girls and women do not die giving birth, and to ensure their safety when systems fail them.”

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