Today is World Population Day—a day to focus on how the global community can address women’s and girls’ unmet need for contraception and for vital reproductive health services around the world. Although some may use this as an opportunity to talk about the “population explosion,” it’s simply a distraction from the truth: A woman’s ability to decide if and when to have children is one of the most important factors for determining the course of her future and reaching her full potential.
The value that women and girls bring to any community is often not recognized, and this limits the freedom they have to make their own choices.
Access to contraception is essential to our ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and has an impact reaching far beyond the immediate health outcomes. When women and girls can access contraception, they are more likely to finish school, they have fewer children by choice, and they are also more likely to prosper—and with them, the world will prosper.
With the largest young population ever, adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable, and they are at risk of being denied their right to freely make their own decisions and achieve their full potential. In recognition of World Population Day, we are highlighting the need for greater investments in adolescent sexual and reproductive health.
Young people, especially girls, face a significant risk of unplanned pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, gender-based violence, and other serious health issues. In fact, pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications are the leading cause of death for girls aged 15–19. Access to contraception and reproductive health services remains the single most important intervention to prevent unwanted pregnancies, as well as reduce maternal mortality and maternal morbidities like obstetric fistula.
Adolescents need comprehensive sexuality education, youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services, and support from their communities to access contraception, finish their education, delay early marriage, and avoid harmful practices. Without this, their right to live in dignity with the freedom to plan their futures is in jeopardy.
We must answer the call to Invest in Teenage Girls and ensure no adolescent girl is caught facing an unintended pregnancy or challenges that follow—just because she did not have the information and services she needs and deserves.