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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Meeting A Role Model of Mine, Nick Kristof

On Monday evening I got to meet someone who is toward the top of my list when it comes to people I want to meet in life. Currently a New York Times Op-Ed columnist, Nick Kristof has lead his life as an adventure to help others and also get the message out on problems going on throughout the world that need exposure. I look forward to reading his work every single week and strive to live the kind of life that he has accomplished. I was unable to take notes during his Lecture at NYU Monday night after arriving late because Washington Square is VERY confusing, the hall was already filled with people eager to hear him speak and honestly we didn’t mind standing to listen to every word. Though I don’t have any notes, I wanted to post on a few points that really stuck out to me and have stayed with me ever since.

Near the beginning of his lecture, Nick Kristof told a story about a girl who just needed $13 in school fees, but did not have the money to spare. The New York Times began posting about these girls and soon enough letters started flooding the office, many with $13 donations.  One day, a donation of $10,000 showed up. Thrilled at this generosity the money was quickly used to sent many girls to school enough years to graduate and support programs that help them as well. Turns out, the $10,000 donation was an accounting error and the man actually meant to donate $100. Oops. As an error of the bank, Kristof told a senior level employee that he could take back that money, pulling all of those girls out of school and having a column written about it, or he could stand with his donation. Without hesitation the man exclaimed that the bank was thrilled to match the amount to keep the $10,000 donation. This made me think, if this bank could spare that money which impacted dozens of girls lives for the better, can’t others? This mistake was fortunate, but what is unfortunate is that it took an error to get the money in the first place. With the impact that it made, think of other that could go to school and create better lives for future generations through corporate social responsibility.

Kristof also drove home the point that it is extremely important for people to travel and have the influence of local communities in the movements and causes they are working for. He mentioned that if a group of people here sat down at a table and found a solution that worked without ever setting foot into the community and talking with those who are there it would be pure luck.  I couldn’t agree more, I’ve been wanting to travel abroad myself to experience my passion for helping others and cultural communication first hand, though it’s usually easier said than done. I’m always open to suggestions for great volunteer abroad opportunities that won’t take my entire savings.

One thing I did not know about Kristof is that during his time abroad, he actually purchased girls living in brothels to take them back to their families. It was shocking to hear him say that he was actually given a paper receipt for the transaction, and the brothel owner was a woman. Sadly, in many cases including one of Kristof’s rescues, the girls will go back to the brothel voluntarily after becoming addicted to meth and knowing they can access it there.

Though people talk about many of these girl and women issues going on abroad, trafficking and forced prostitution is actually a very large problem in the U.S. as well. Kristof told a story of a Brooklyn girl who was taken in by a pimp and sold on websites such as backpage.com. This girl in particular was dropped off at an apartment for a John and as she made her way to his door and the pimp waited outside, she went to another door and began frantically banging. Luckily, someone answered and she was able to call the police. Most situations are never found however, and it’s very rare for a pimp to actually get caught and charged severely for a crime. The Johns who buy the girls often don’t completely know the violent scenarios that go along with forced prostitution. A recent solution is to send them to John school once caught where they learn what issues they are fueling, so far it has been affective.

Kristof’s work does focus a lot on women and girls. However, he believes men are not the main problem. Women often support many of these harmful practices do to cultural beliefs. This is true in many cases such as FGM, forced labor, and forced marriage. I learned a lot about this at the Women In The World summit where it was often the grandmothers who were the most severe when it came to forced marriage. To change these cultural customs, Kristof believes education is key for a different future. He then shared a photo of a Ugandan girl who received a goat and support from Heifer International and just recently graduated from the University of Connecticut.

Though of course women are not always the main problem. Domestic violence is an issue that is still commonly accepted in many cultures who think that women should be abused in order to understand their place. However, Kristof told a story about a woman who brought in more of an income then her husband. This trend is becoming more common now, and will continue to grow as more girls are educated and getting good jobs. Usually when the woman does make more money, there is an absence of the domestic violence.

To close, Kristof reminded us of how much is going on the world that is often unfathomable to those here in the United States, which is another reason he believes everyone should spend some time abroad. “We won the lottery of life,” he said, reminding us how lucky we are no matter how we might sometimes complain. He then told a story of his friend was was a humanitarian worker in Darfur. The woman stayed strong through all her time on the ground. It wasn’t until one day at her grandmother’s birthday party she looked at a bird feeder and had a complete breakdown. The bird feeder reminded her of how much we have here, even enough to spare to make sure birds don’t go hungry, when the people she saw in Darfur were suffering immensely, starving, and facing unthinkable violence. It just never seems fair.

After Kristof’s lecture we enjoyed a reception to do some mingling. My two friends and I even had the privilege of meeting and speaking to him, a moment I know I will never forget. As he shook our hands and listened to our questions and goals, he remained very open and easy to talk to. It was great to see someone with such a huge following so human to a group of young professionals striving to make a difference in human rights. He left us with this advice:

” It’s not about confidence, it’s about humility. The more you question yourself the more you will find the answers within others and your adventures of travel and learning.”

I highly recommend checking out Half The Sky. The organization, book, and soon to be documentary share stories that the world needs to hear.