UN Declares Contraception Universal Human Right-What Does This Mean for The World?

Yesterday, the United Nations declared access to contraception and family planning a universal human right stating:

“Not only does the ability for a couple to choose when and how many children to have help lift nations out of poverty, but it is also one of the most effective means of empowering women. Women who use contraception are generally healthier, better educated, more empowered in their households and communities and more economically productive. Women’s increased labor-force participation boosts nations’ economies.”

This is a huge step for so much of the world. I don’t consider myself a major “feminist” by any means, however, it is just common sense that women make up roughly half the world. Therefore, if half the world is left behind or oppressed there is no way that the rest of society can effectively move forward. The unfortunate part remains that people immediate associate contraception to mean sex and irresponsibility. It is completely the opposite, well, the irresponsible party anyways. First of all, women have the right to choose their lifestyle. So even if it is solely to protect themselves for sexual reasons, they are being safe. Then there are those who are in committed relationships or married. Having this lifestyle should not mean that having sex with your partner could always lead to the possibility of a child. By planning in your relationship how many children and when you will have children allows the woman to pursue her career and achieve leadership positions that will benefit society. This also benefits the children that the couple will have since they will be in a healthier environment.

In developing countries, there are unfortunately circumstances that come up against women where contraception is needed to avoid the results that danger and violence can often cause. Many girls must travel great distances to get to school which often makes them targets of abduction and rape. Whether rape as a weapon of war, forced into child marriage, sex slavery/trafficking, etc., these crimes are often focused primarily on women and girls. Access to contraception can help them keep some power and control over their lives. When I was in Ghana, I saw first hand that many schools had no bathrooms, making it difficult for girls to come to school during that time of month. Contraception provides an opportunity to regulate this and control symptoms that may otherwise keep them home, eventually causing them to be so far behind that they drop out. Mothers in developing countries who have multiple children would now be given the chance to control the spacing between children. Therefore, delaying pregnancy, finishing school, succeeding in jobs, saving money, and lifting themselves and their family out of poverty.

In the U.S., Obama’s affordable care act is known to have access to free contraceptives. Many people are disturbed by this thinking that the government is forcing to pay for something that may not believe in. However, there is no way everyone’s tax dollars will go 100% where they agree. It’s not possible to make everyone happy. Secondly, if your concern is your religion, religion is personal. Religion is not the law, and not everyone has the same beliefs as you. Therefore, you can not harm the health and quality of lives to others because you believe in something that works for you. I’m still unsure why religion has so much control over laws and policy when it should be a personal relationship. There are so many different religions in the United States. Law must focus on the well-being of people overall and not give in to a few religions that may hinder others. Another issue in the U.S. that is extremely popular to argue on is the economy. But it has been proven that by having money go into providing family planning services for women will gain revenue as an end result. The money that is put in then goes back into society as these women succeed into leadership postions and careers that allow them to establish and support themselves, rather than not finishing school or moving ahead in work causing them to sink into poverty relying on government assistance programs. Again, if you leave behind half of your society because they are women and therefore have reproductive health issues that must be addressed, there is no way to move forward. Being a woman is not a pre-existing condition, and should not be treated as such. Men certainly aren’t going to stop wanting sex, and neither will women. So the fault should not fall on women who are trying to be responsible so they don’t fall behind by using methods that are much less reliable.

I will never forget the 14 year old girl we met in Ghana, who was so intelligent and inspiring to speak with. On the last day we found out she was pregnant, would have to quit school, and work to support her family instead. That was her life. No responsibility was even considered to be put on the boy. It was heartbreaking. These are things that could so easily be avoided. People often put a stigma on the issue that causes it to slow down rather than moving forward and succeeding. It is a shame, and I am thrilled to see the United Nations take this important step forward to push the world to take action in supporting women and therefore supporting the world.

To learn more, the UNFPA released a full report here: http://www.unfpa.org/webdav/site/global/shared/swp/2012/EN-SWP2012_Report.pdf

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“There Is Always A Way”

Being back in the U.S. after traveling to Ghana has been interesting. I’ve been more annoyed than ever with the daily stresses in life that in the grand scheme of things just aren’t important and should not take up so much of my frustration. The minute I landed in Newark I was bombarded with rude and unhelpful attitudes of airport and transit employees. I missed the laid back and friendly culture I had left where you would never see such negative attitudes over anything in life. Now that I’m back, it almost seems like my trip was a dream. I can’t believe that I went and that it was over. Then, I’m awaken as my phone rings and I hear my kids’ voices on my voicemail as a lump forms in my throat. I’m never good with endings, and this one was hard especially because I felt that our time together was too short and we could have had more together than we did, even though it was enough for us both to learn from each other.

It’s frustrating to me because when I tell people where I have traveled I get a lot of pity expressions. People feel sorry those who are living in any African country without even really knowing about it, and it’s sad that our society is morphed into that thinking without looking further. I also feel extremely awkward when people try to tell me how good it is that I went over to help them, to help “these poor people”. However, when I left I didn’t really feel sad or worried about the wellbeing of any of the children I left. And by no means did any of them need to be “saved”. In fact, I’ve come to think even more than I have before that maybe they are the lucky ones. Sure they don’t have a lot. The kids that I worked with mostly lived in shacks, had torn clothes, and minimal toys to play with. However, they were so appreciative and respectful. They enjoyed learning, they found fun in simple games that didn’t involve a television screen or gaming system. Sure, we waited 3 hours for our dinner sometimes, but in Ghana, why stress? What is the point in stressing over these day to day things? Here we are in a developed country with our health problems caused from stress or from not getting enough exercise and eating processed or fast food. Our children aren’t sweeping dirt to make their school look as nice as they can because they are proud to show you, they aren’t carrying chairs over for their new guests. We have so much more here in a materialistic ways, but our schools are filled with kids who turn to drugs, bullying, suicide, etc. It’s like we create these problems for ourselves.

I guess it frustrates me most because I feel I learned just as much from them as I’m sure they learned from me if not more. If ever an issue, the motto rang through “there is always a way”. Don’t worry, there is always a way to get something done if it needs to get done. So what’s better? Is it better to have the money, the things, the technology, the high-tech games? Or is it better to live simply, appreciate your family, friends and community, be a little dirty, a little poor, but be an overall friendlier and more positive person? Laid back with less stress to allow yourself to enjoy life? Who has the better quality of life? It’s true that developing countries can learn to further themselves in areas that the western world is excelling, but do they want to? I think that teaching about job creation is extremely important and showing them what else is out there and creating positive cultural exchange experiences. However, I think it’s equally as important for those in the western world to realize, they might not be the best off. And as much as we are teaching the world, take a minute and let other cultures teach you and open your mind to how they are living. It might be more important for someone to learn patience, life skills, survival instincts, love, respect, and appreciation of what you do have than to learn the competitive fast paced nature of the western world. So, never think “oh those poor people in Africa, how good it is for you to help them” because really, I think we might be the poor people that need help to become rich in other ways than money, power, tech, and business in the long run. If I had the people in my life that mean the most, I think that I could very much live in Ghana or a similar culture for more long term.

Smiles all around at Nkroful

Junior showing off my sunglasses

Vida and a friend after practicing our Azonto

My beautiful girls, always filled with smiles

Not only were they always smiling, but even though they don’t have a lot, they are so quick to give. Especially on the last days everyone wanted to give things to me so badly in fear that if they didn’t I would forget them. One group asked what I washed with. When I told them soap, they were in complete shock that someone with my color skin could use the same thing that they use to wash. They didn’t understand. Before I knew what was going on, a group ran to their home to get soap and bring it back for me to take. They are very obsessed with complexion as well. They think that white skin is better and they think hair type like mine is better than their’s. It was frustrating to me, they would say “your hair is so nice!” and they I would reply “YOUR hair is so nice, it is beautiful!”. But they are very quick to think that white is better and more dominant. Which leads me to my next blog I hope to write about empowerment as an area to focus on. If anything, I hope I left them feeling more special than anything. I wanted them to know that I was saying was truly what I thought. It was hard to tell if it went in one ear and out the other, or really helped them stay motivated to keep working hard, studying, and focusing on what they were so good at. I had the most amazing artists, runners, high jumpers, kids that could list tons of countries from every letter of the alphabet, and who could write the most creative and interesting stories/poems. I hope they don’t lose that. Though roadblocks come along the way such as kids who are forced to work instead of go to school, death, illness, and pregnancy. One school had a 14 year old girl who was pregnant. We did not know until the end and it was hard because she had one of the greatest personalities and was so easy and interesting to talk to. Of course, the fact that the boy have any responsibility wasn’t even a thought in anyone’s mind. I was so frustrated that someone with so much potential would not have the opportunities. I hope the world will transition to understand what a difference focusing on women and girls can make in situations like that. Where someone so special could have a large hand in helping their community build itself up, but instead will fall back into the cycle of life that is hard to dig out of. Not just in Africa or a developing country, but very much so in the U.S. as well. Which, my plug, is why women’s reproductive health is so important. It took the U.S. too long to make it a priority, as a powerful country we should be setting an example to make the change worldwide that could make a large impact. I got very much off topic, it’s so easy to do! My mind is constantly flooded with thoughts and side stories from the trip. I thought going would clear up for me what I wanted from life, but honestly, I’ve never been more confused. There is a lot to process, but I’ll try to share along the way.