Today (Tuesday 8th March) is International Women’s Day - an annual event that celebrates women’s achievements and raises awareness of the barriers to gender equality. One such barrier is the difficulty many women around the world still have accessing contraception.
Worldwide 225 million women don’t have control over their bodies and future, because they don’t have access to contraception. Accessing contraception can be particularly difficult for women living in remote areas, as clinics are scarce, too expensive to reach, or lack skilled staff and equipment. Our outreach teams travel to remote corners of the world, often sleeping in tents, to offer people a choice of contraceptive methods.
The teams regularly visit the same areas, building strong relationships with local health staff and communities. When teams arrive they are often greeted by large numbers of women seeking our services.
The consequences of not having access to contraception can be dire, particularly in countries where abortion is illegal or heavily restricted. Every year more than 20 million women resort to unsafe abortion. Our teams frequently see women who’ve tried to induce abortions by inserting objects such as sticks and wires into their uterus, or by ingesting herbs and poisons. An estimated 47,000 women die in the process, and eight million require urgent medical attention.
In Zambia one of our outreach teams met a woman called Naomi Mwansa. Naomi is only 21, but she already has one child and has served time in prison for inducing an abortion using traditional herbs. Naomi explains:
“I tried to induce an abortion three times myself. I was told that I should boil and drink flowers, but it didn’t work. The fourth time I tried - that’s when I aborted. I had heard that there are people that help with abortions. I was told to take K70 ($10) to the place. They inserted the medicine down there in my private parts. That evening I felt sick, and then the pregnancy came out. The blood came out for three days.
A neighbour told the police about Naomi’s abortion and she spent one year and four months in prison. Naomi has since been released from prison and is now back at home with her family. Our outreach team visited Naomi’s community and a team member spoke to her about the range of contraceptives methods available. Naomi opted for the contraceptive injection, she says:
“Now that I am out of jail, I do not want to be pregnant and I will not take any chances, which is why I’ve had the contraceptive injection from Marie Stopes.”
By offering contraception, our teams around the world are giving millions of women like Naomi control of their lives. We believe that this is something to celebrate this International Women’s Day.