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Opinion: Too many people see a girl as just an accident waiting to happen

Friday 14 July 2017 Dr Carole Sekimpi Contraception, Young people, Opinion Uganda

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Dr Carole Sekimpi - Country Director for Marie Stopes Uganda - tells us why the London Family Planning Summit is so important.

Traditionally in Africa, boys are preferred to girls as children. In many cases, formal education for girls is not prioritised and females do not have inheritance rights. At its root, this inequality is because African society has such low expectations of the girl child. All they can see is a girl growing up, getting pregnant, dropping out of school and that's it. The end of her ambitions. The end of her potential.

Too many people see a girl as just an accident waiting to happen.

This week, world governments, the United Nations, private foundations and organisations providing family planning – including Marie Stopes International – will come together in London to voice our shared commitment to making family planning a global priority, and fast-tracking efforts to bring modern contraception to every woman and girl who wants it worldwide. Action on this issue has never been more urgent.

'Contraception is about much more than preventing unplanned pregnancy'

In Uganda, millions of women and girls lack any kind of access to contraception, leaving them unprotected from an unplanned pregnancy. By the age of 19, 54% of Ugandan girls are either pregnant or have had their first child. For older women, more than four out of 10 births are unplanned; the average Ugandan woman has six children (but says she wants four).

All of this is taking a significant toll not just on women's health, but on their family's psycho-social wellbeing, their finances, and their prospects for the future. We see this every day at Marie Stopes Uganda, as our teams travel the country to bring family planning to the poorest and most marginalised communities.

Contraception is about much more than preventing unplanned pregnancy. For women, it gives us the space to enjoy life, the freedom to pursue our dreams and ambitions, and allows us to take ownership of our future. With contraception, women are more likely to complete their education, establish a career and reach financial freedom and empowerment

For families, contraception means adequate time for couples to bond, sees children born into stable homes, infants being nursed longer and receiving the love and support they need to grow into well balanced individuals. Families are better equipped to live within their means and less likely to fall into poverty. Their children tend to be healthier, and have more opportunities.

Even better, when contraception is made widely available within a country, all of these individual benefits add up. Populations grow healthier and more prosperous. There is less pressure on jobs and resources. Countries become more stable and more secure. Everybody wins, not least of all our girls.

For too many women, contraception remains out of reach

The drive to increase access to family planning in Uganda is gaining pace. In 1989, only one in 20 women in the country was using modern contraception to prevent an unintended pregnancy. Today, just one generation later, that figure is almost one in three.

As family planning becomes more popular, each day larger numbers of women and girls are seeing the benefits and choosing it for themselves. Yet a rapidly growing population means that, despite our progress, for too many women, contraception remains stubbornly out of reach.

New figures from Marie Stopes International reveal that, if we were to get contraception to every Ugandan woman who wants it by 2030, we would prevent an estimated 18.7 million unintended pregnancies in the country.

Just think of that number: 18.7 million. And now think of it again, but in terms not just of pregnancies avoided but educations completed, ambitions kept on track, dreams fulfilled, and women empowered. Millions of them, all adding up to make our economy stronger, our society fairer, and the future of our girl children much more than a foregone conclusion.

We know getting contraception to every woman who wants it is going to be a big challenge, one of the largest ever undertaken. I'm inspired by the future I see for my own daughters and I know we can do it. We have to do it.

This opinion piece was originally published in Huffington Post.

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