On the first International Women's Day in 1911, rallies were held across Europe, where women and men demanded the right for women to vote, work, and hold public office. They wanted the same thing we are still fighting for today: equality.
Ninety-nine years later, where are we? It's a completely different world for women -- and yes I mean world, because the movement for equality is global. Compared to just ten years ago, more women today have jobs and are saving money for their families. More girls are attending primary school than ever before. The number of women in positions of authority in governments, including in legislatures, has nearly doubled in the past decade. While this is progress that we joyfully celebrate, we still have a long way to go.
Advancing global equality for women starts with reproductive health care. Every year, more than 500,000 women die unnecessarily from pregnancy-related causes. More than 200 million women want to use to contraception but don't have access to it. And each year, 20 million pregnancies end in unsafe abortions, killing 70,000 women and injuring hundreds of thousands more. This is failure.
And this is what failure looks like: A 16-year-old girl in Kenya without access to contraception gets pregnant. A woman in Sudan dies while she is delivering her sixth child because her clinic doesn't have surgical supplies or a clinician trained in emergency obstetric care. A pregnant woman in Nicaragua with metastatic cancer cannot begin chemotherapy because the treatment she needs to save her life might harm her fetus.
Countries that invest in family planning get an incredible return on their money. Women who plan their pregnancies face fewer health risks, go to school longer, and save more money. Good reproductive health policies lower unintended pregnancy rates, reduce unsafe abortions, and decrease maternal and newborn deaths. This means less government money is spent on emergency health care and social services overall, and women and their children live better lives, which is a priceless commodity.
And on our side fighting for women is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is making reproductive rights a priority in the U.S.'s international development agenda. This is more than rhetoric. For the first time, the U.S. State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices will include a section specific to reproductive rights.
And yes, it is up to you and me to make sure we do even more.
Specifically, we need to:
- Resubmit the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women to the U.S. Senate for ratification. This document is the only UN treaty that mentions reproductive rights, and the U.S. is one of only seven countries that haven't ratified it.
- Urge Congress to endorse the Obama Administration's recommended590 million for international family planning through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and700 million for maternal and child health. This isn't enough money to ensure that all women can access reproductive health services, nor is it the amount the U.S. should contribute given the size of our economy, but it does represent the largest amount ever included in a federal budget for these purposes.
- Ensure that Congress enact the Global Democracy Promotion Act, which bars future administrations from re-imposing the draconian "global gag rule," which hampered women's access to health care and muzzled many providers from publicly speaking out on the need for safe abortion services.
We know how to improve women's health. We know how to save most women who die unnecessarily in childbirth. We know how to prevent unintended pregnancies and create conditions for safe deliveries. We know how to advocate for women and make governments more responsive world wide.