Winning Idea: Access to Contraception Begins with Questions on the Ground

By: Mary Krane Derr, Writer, Poet, Multi-Issue Nonviolence Activist, originally posted on Conversations for a Better World

Recently, Conversations for a Better World launched a contest for good ideas. They asked, "How can we ensure that every woman who chooses can access the Pill or other contraceptive options?" Below is the winning idea.

All Our Lives

Jen Roth and I recently co-founded All Our Lives, a multinational nonprofit group eager to resolve this urgent problem, among others that constrain women’s and children’s lives and well-being.  We are pro every life, born and unborn, and pro women’s right to make their own nonviolent sexual and reproductive choices.  Guaranteeing family planning access for all women on Earth who wish it will help prevent millions of unsought pregnancies and maternal and fetal injuries and deaths.

All Our Lives will not offer preordained answers, but a series of questions that begins and ends where it most belongs: in collaboration with these very women.  After all, they, and any children they conceive, are the ones with the most to lose or gain.

A series of questions

• Who precisely are the 200 million women? When informed about all available methods of family planning today, what do or would they themselves identify as their needs and preferences?

• How exactly do or would their male partners help and/or hinder them in meeting their needs and preferences?  How can men in their societies be best enlisted to bring about positive changes, for example, alleviating rape, domestic violence, and contraceptive sabotage? How to best foster financial and social independence among these populations of women, both for its own sake and for its value in aiding women to leave male partners who persist in violent behavior?

• How can the needs of women who are unserved in terms of contraception be integrated with existing primary health care systems, including maternal child and HIV/AIDS programming?  How to integrate these needs and preferences with the ramping up of all basic health care services?

• How can large-scale funders, such as multilateral agencies, governments, NGOs, and private foundations, be persuaded to increase their stalled or dwindling funds for family planning supplies? Even more, how can they be persuaded to set their funding priorities in accord with the priorities of underserved or unserved women themselves?

• How can human society at all levels, from the local to the global, become more engaged in support for access to modern, universal, but community-grounded family planning services?  Most of all, how can this issue be unburdened of the US-style conflicts over abortion which so often hinder progress on family planning?

Access to contraception

UNFPA’s own policy—not promoting abortion as a means of family planning—suggests that while abortion remains controversial around the globe, people of diverse views about abortion itself already share a widespread consensus in favor of voluntary pregnancy prevention.

In the US, for example, it is not only pro-choicers who support women’s access to voluntary contraception.  According to a poll by the National Family Planning and Reproductive Heatlth Association, eight in ten Americans who identify as pro-lifers take this stance as well. How might the many pro-contraception pro-lifers around the world be better engaged, along with pro-choicers, in the abortion-reducing struggle for universal family planning access?

And what of those who have religious objections to what they term “artificial” means of contraception? Most accept modern fertility awareness/natural family planning methods such as CycleBeads, which UNFPA already promotes. How can they be engaged in promoting such methods among members of their religious communities who share their family planning beliefs?

Most of all, do women whose contraception needs are unserved voice a desire for alternatives to unsought pregnancies and abortions?  And what means of prevention would they choose given the chance?

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