I have two sons, two wonderful little boys who light up my days with their laughter, pure love and, of course, the boring things, like nagging. I am grateful for the option of being able to take a non-celibate break from child-bearing to recoup my health and work to feed them and secure a better future for them. This is why the lack of access to contraceptives for other women is so distressing.
Just by looking at the community I grew up in, it is clear that when a mother is empowered she has the ability to make her children dream bigger and get better opportunities in life. Yes, many children grew up in families where their parents had no access to education and health facilities and consequently gave birth each and every year, yet they still ‘made it’. The fact remains that it takes longer to break the cycle of poverty under these circumstances.
Economic growth is not matching the rate at which the population is increasing.
We need to reflect more on the importance of contraception, particularly to women, in the aftermath of World Contraception Day. The unmet need for contraception, particularly in Africa, is a grave concern, especially given that economic growth is not matching the rate at which the population is increasing. In addition, health facilities are not being improved and expanded to accommodate these needs as well. What this means is that we have a situation where many women are giving birth outside medical facilities and their babies are not getting the medical care they need.
Continual childbirth takes its toll on families. It takes its toll on the health of the mother, who has to deal with pregnancy and after-birth complications and so becomes less available to nurture her other children. It takes it toll financially – child birth is expensive. While some African countries are working towards and/or are already providing partly free maternal care, some of those facilities are still inaccessible to women. Some still require women to buy their own gloves, syringes, needles, cotton wool and maternity pads – despite the fact that some cannot even afford the transport costs to get to those facilities. In the event of pregnancy complications, the worst-case scenario is that these women and their new-born babies may lose their lives.
The benefits of contraception
Contraception is liberating. There can be no doubt that it promotes the development of communities and the autonomy of women. According to the World Health Organisation, 214 million women of reproductive age in developing countries who want to avoid pregnancy are not using a modern contraceptive method. The reasons for this include fear or the experience of side-effects, cultural or religious opposition, gender-related barriers and limited access.
Family planning allows women to have control over the size of their families. Pregnancy-related risks are common when there is not enough time between pregnancies or when women giver birth at an older age. Thus, family planning allows women to be in control of their health and to reduce the risk of maternal and infant mortality. Closely related to this, reduced unintended pregnancies also cut down the incidence of unsafe abortions, which accounts for 4.7% to 13.2% of maternal deaths.
The educational benefits of using contraceptives cannot be underestimated. Apart from giving women the opportunity to pursue their own educational and economic goals, it allows the children within these families to get the most out of education by staying in school for longer and having access to resources that can ensure a better life for them.
Contraceptives such as the birth control pill can reduce the risk of developing certain reproductive cancers.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, using contraceptives such as the birth control pill can reduce the risk of developing certain reproductive cancers and can be used to treat many menstruation-related symptoms and disorders.
The downside – or is it?
This article would be incomplete without mentioning the percentage of women who do not use birth control because of concerns over and experiences with side-effects. The widely used pill is reported to cause weight gain, headaches and migraines, nausea, decreased libido and inter-menstrual bleeding, among other side-effects. Providing proper education at health facilities can help users understand how they can prevent some of these side-effects, which, for many, subside after a while.
More importantly, it is critical to increase access to contraceptives that can be used by men so that couples can support each other and the burden does not solely fall on the woman. In addition, double protection in the form of condom use is critical – most birth control methods do not protect from sexually transmitted infections.
Is there a downside? No, the benefits outweigh the risks. African governments and their partners should prioritise the health of women and children through the provision of contraceptives. In the long run, the economy will benefit and when there is a need to increase the population it would be because the resources to cater for a population growth are available and women can make informed-empowered decisions.