It All Starts With Contraceptive Security

Jane Roberts

All proposals to advance women, to empower women economically, socially, legally, will be highly ineffectual unless each and every woman is able to choose whether and when to have children.

From March 2 to 13, hearings will be
held at the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women on the progress, or lack thereof, on
implementing commitments made at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in
Beijing. Hillary Clinton spoke in Beijing. At her recent hearings to become Secretary of
State, she said:  "Of particular
concern to me is the plight of women and girls who comprise the majority of the
world’s unhealthy, unschooled, unfed, unpaid."

There has been a longstanding proposal
for a separate, well-funded U.N. agency for women. The Gender Equality
Architecture Reform (GEAR) proposes to consolidate three U.N. entities: the U.N.
Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Office of the Special Advisor on Gender
Issues, and the UN Division on the Advancement of Women. Lots of words.  No deeds.

Let’s do a Reproductive Health Reality Check. All
proposals to advance women, to empower women economically, socially, legally, will be highly ineffectual unless
each and every woman is able to choose whether and when to have children. Every
woman must be able to control her own fertility. Universal access to family
planning was promised at the 1994 International Conference on Population and
Development in Cairo, Egypt. Commitments have been more honored in the breach
than in the implementation.

There is a well accepted definition of
"contraceptive security." "Contraceptive security has been achieved when
individuals have the ability to choose, obtain, and use quality contraceptives
whenever they need them."

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Do the math. With 6.7 billion people on
the planet, half of whom are women (and girls) and then again one third of whom
are in their "reproductive years," (let’s say ages 15 to 40), that is (excuse my
French) one hell of a lot of contraceptives.

You’ll be interested in a section of the
United Nations Population Fund web site. Under "Securing Essential
Supplies."

Without
essential commodities – from contraceptives to testing kits to equipment for
emergency obstetric care – the right to reproductive health cannot be fully
exercised. In many places, condoms are urgently needed to prevent the further
spread of the deadly HIV virus.

The mandate of
UNFPA in this area is to provide the right quantities of the right products in
the right condition in the right place at the right time for the right price.
This complex logistical process involves many actors, including the public and
private sectors. UNFPA takes a lead role in reproductive health commodity
security, coordinating the process, forecasting needs, mobilizing support and
building logistical capacity at the country level.

That is the
nitty gritty of how you achieve contraceptive security. A Herculean task because
of course you have to also have the trained health workers to inform, show,
teach.  And safe abortion must also
be in the mix.

I hope the
hearings in the next two weeks emphasize fertility control. I’ll be surprised if
they do. Whether they do or not will constitute a real RH Reality
Check.

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