Over the past year and a half, women and girls have experienced record job loss, challenges to their education, and a disproportionate burden of unpaid care and domestic work. That's because in times of disaster and crisis, women and girls are among the first groups to be impacted.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been no different. As health care systems and supply chains were disrupted around the world, women — particularly those in low-income countries — lost access to the sexual and reproductive health services that help them take charge over their bodies and realize their full potential. This has derailed progress to achieve gender equality by 2030.
Family planning and other reproductive health medicines are central to gender equality and women’s empowerment, and play a key part in reducing poverty. Right now, there are an estimated 218 million women in developing nations who want to delay or avoid becoming pregnant but do not have access to family planning and reproductive health services, information, or resources in their community.
When women and adolescent girls do not have access to contraceptives, the consequences can be devastating — more maternal deaths, more unsafe abortions, and more teenage pregnancies. Adolescent pregnancies are also linked to girls dropping out of school, which limits their economic potential and puts them at a higher risk of being vulnerable to poverty and exclusion.
Family planning has enormous benefits for individuals, couples, families, communities, and nations. But even though investing in women and girls is in the best interest of every country in the world, women’s health, rights, and choices often take a back seat when it comes to funding.
That’s where UNFPA, the United Nations' sexual and reproductive health agency, becomes an invaluable resource for women and girls everywhere. The UN agency expands access to family planning through the UNFPA Supplies Partnership by providing contraceptives and life-saving maternal health medicines globally, with a particular focus on women and girls in low-income countries.
Since its launch in 2008, the UNFPA Supplies Partnership has prevented 89 million unintended pregnancies and 26.8 million unsafe abortions by giving women access to the contraceptives and support they need to make decisions about their personal health and future.
“It’s not easy managing studies, home issues, business — it’s all about determination. I don’t like depending on men. I have to continue moving forward,” Salume, a woman from Uganda, says about choosing to get a contraceptive implant with the support of UNFPA. “Without family planning, there’s no way I can manage it. I decided to go somewhere, whereby I can get counseling and I’ll be sure of what I’m doing.”
During the pandemic, the demand for family planning resources and other reproductive health medicines increased as services were interrupted and access to information and contraceptives restricted. To address this gap, the UNFPA Supplies Partnership is calling on governments and the private sector to mobilize resources and funding to help the UN agency increase access to sexual and reproductive health services for some of the most vulnerable women and girls.
This year, some governments made the decision to cut funding for overseas aid to support domestic pandemic recovery efforts, putting millions of lives at risk. From cutting back support in Yemen to threatening the research and development of treatments that can eradicate infectious diseases, these aid reductions impact every issue that plagues people living in developing nations or devastated by crises.
The UNFPA Supplies Partnership's work has been greatly affected by the reduced funding, making it more important than ever for world leaders to step up and urgently address the funding gap to support women’s rights and choices.
Over the next decade, the UNFPA Supplies Partnership estimates that the program can prevent 141 million unintended pregnancies, 328,000 maternal deaths, and 42 million unsafe abortions — but only if Global Citizens everywhere take action to improve access to family planning services and other reproductive health medicines.
COVID-19 has exposed the fragile nature of health care systems, making it more important than ever to prioritize a gender-responsive recovery. With greater support, we can ensure women and girls everywhere are able to take charge over their bodies and lives to realize our collective vision of a better and more equal future.