These days, it's hard to avoid stories of how women's reproductive rights are under attack, both here in the US and abroad.
Forty years after Roe v. Wade, states in the US are still attempting to block women's access to safe abortion. A woman in ElSalvador, where abortion is banned, was essentially handed a death sentence when the Supreme Court ruled against making an exception to save her life. And although in 2012 the UN declared access to contraception a universal human right, the unmet need of birth control for women worldwide is staggering.
The world over, women are fighting for control over their health and their bodies–for their basic human rights. When women are guaranteed their reproductive health, everyone wins. Yes, women immediately benefit from protected reproductive rights, but the rewards of standing up for women's health are widespread, helping not only women, but their children and communities, too.
At the most basic level, access to family planning – including contraception and abortion – lets a woman decide if, when and how many children to have, immediately benefiting not only her health and wellbeing, but that of her family as well. Women with access to contraception tend to be healthier, more educated and more economically productive.
At MADRE, we understand the importance of protecting women's reproductive health. Not only is it a human right, but the positive impact of a woman's autonomy over her reproductive health choices is clear. It increases her decision-making power, placing her in a stronger position overall to demand other rights – such as access to education and employment – for herself, her family and her community.
Despite the critical importance of women's reproductive health to development, reproductive health threats are still the leading cause of illness and death among women of childbearing age around the world.
It's not enough to declare women's reproductive rights as a human right. We must act – to increase awareness of the benefits of reproductive health, to expand access to family planning services, and more.
At MADRE, we partner with grassroots women's groups worldwide to do just that. We work to advance the full range of women's reproductive rights as more than just a women's issue.
Where we work in Kenya, for example, severe poverty forces many families to marry off their young daughters for a dowry. There, we operate shelter schools with our local partners, the Indigenous Information Network, to provide young girls an alternative to forced marriage and early pregnancy. We also work within these girls' communities to show their families how a girls' education is a more sustainable solution to poverty and hunger than forced early marriage and a dowry.
And that's not all we're doing. To learn more about MADRE's work in protecting women's health – like our partnership with a network of Israeli and Palestinian midwives working to combat maternal mortality and to safely deliver babies in the West Bank, or our collaboration with the Women's Worker's Committee in the impoverished Guatemalan town of Barcenas to provide women's health check-ups and contraception to women who would otherwise go without – click here.
When you promote women's health, you are giving women more than just a chance at a healthy life. You're investing in them, in their families and in their communities.