"A girl should be free to live to her full potential, to live a healthy life, free from violence and discrimination. To get educated and access her right to go to school. To choose when, if and whom to marry and have children when she is ready. Simple, these are her rights. With them she can change the world"
- The Girls' Globe Manifesto
Throughout my 27 years, I have had the rights mentioned above. I've grown from a baby to an adolescent to a woman, with the ability to make informed decisions on how I want to live my life. At times, I have followed what was expected of me -- I studied hard and tried to behave -- and at other times I broke societal norms, like when I married in my early twenties (something quite uncommon in Sweden, where women's average age of first marriage is 31 years).
My husband and I are now expecting our first child. We have had access to health services prior to my pregnancy, and now we have access to essential maternal health care, mainly through our midwife. As the baby grows inside me, we follow its growth week by week on our phones through our pregnancy app. It is an incredible experience to know that I'm carrying a child who is loved before even entering the world.
Yet, with my experience working with maternal health, I am familiar with the risks associated with pregnancy and childbirth. I know that miscarriage is more common than most people realize, and I know that unwanted pregnancies are far too prevalent due to the global unmet need of family planning. I know that 2.9 million newborns die and 2.6 million are stillborn annually. And I know that 290,000 women pass away every year as a result of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth.
But I also know, thanks to accessible information and the availability and affordability of sexual, reproductive and maternal health services, these risks are minimal where I live. As this year's State of the World's Mothers report by Save the Children, sponsored by Johnson & Johnson, clearly maps out, the highest rates of maternal and newborn death occur in the least developed countries and in areas of conflict.
My growing belly is a reminder of these inequalities; my baby's kicks and squirms remind me that not every woman has the same chances of giving birth to a healthy baby as I do, simply based on where she lives.
This especially applies to adolescent girls in low-income countries who have the greatest risks of violence and discrimination. Female genital mutilation and child marriage are but two examples of grave violence and abuse that should never be tolerated or preserved in the name of culture or religion. Child marriage also puts adolescent girls at risk for early pregnancy with high risks of complications -- the most common cause of death for adolescent girls in low-income countries. These atrocities, along with other forms of violence against women and girls, highly limit girls' and women's opportunities, and inhibits their ability to have healthy pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies.
My hope is that the baby in my belly will grow up to be free: free to play, free to laugh, free to learn and develop in her or his own way. My hope is that all girls will be born into a world where they are loved, where they can grow up to become independent women with access to education and health services, free from violence and discrimination.
All women and girls must be free to live to their full potential; no other person should be allowed to make decisions on anyone else's life or body. Girls have the power to change the world. They just need the opportunity -- everywhere.