Women and adolescent girls have the right to access voluntary, affordable, and available, high quality and effective modern contraceptives. They also have the right to access such information based on their choice. These qualities have international recognition as fundamental human rights.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that women and adolescent girls have the right to:
- the highest attainable standard of health;
- decide the number and spacing of children;
- information; and
- the right to available, acceptable, and good quality contraceptive information and services free from coercion.
The Programme of Action from the International Conference on Population and Development also recognizes contraceptive information and services as essential to meet the reproductive health rights.
More so, the Committee on the Rights of the Child indicates that State parties should provide adolescents with access to sexual and reproductive health information, including on:
- family planning and contraceptives;
- the dangers of early pregnancy;
- the prevention of HIV/AIDS; and
- the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.
Contraceptives for women in developing countries
For millions of women and girls in developing countries, the right to access safe and modern contraceptive/family planning services remains far-fetched. The unmet need for safe and effective contraceptive services in developing countries is staggering.
According to UNFPA, roughly 215 million women in developing countries rely on traditional methods of family planning only. These traditional methods have a high rate of failure. At least one out of four women seeking to avoid pregnancy does not use an effective contraceptive method. Women with unmet need for modern contraceptives account for 82 per cent of unintended pregnancies.
In Kenya, slightly more than half of the currently married women (58%) are currently using some method of contraception. More so, 65% of sexually active unmarried women are currently using some method of contraception.
A higher percentage of urban women (62%) use some method of contraception. Only 56 per cent of their rural counterparts use some method of contraception.
The widespread use of contraceptives increases dramatically with education. 18 per cent of women currently married have an unmet need for family planning.
Currently, the total potential demand for family planning among married women is 76%. Sexually active unmarried women reported a higher demand for family planning. They also have a higher unmet need than that of married women. The total demand is 92%, while the level of unmet need is 27%. (Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, 2014).
Effects of lack of access to contraceptives
Lack of access to modern contraceptive information and services has detrimental consequences. It means that women and adolescents girls are often unable to protect themselves from HIV and sexually transmitted infections. They are also unable to control their fertility and reproduction.
Both situations have negative consequences on the health and lives of women and adolescent girls. UNFPA reports that over 30 million people globally are living with HIV. It also says that 340 million new infections of curable STIs occur annually.
Out of the 80 million women who experience unplanned pregnancies annually, 45 million do have abortions.
In countries where the law or authority highly restricts abortion, women often resort to quacks and/or induce self-abortions. These are usually unsafe and pose a serious risk to their health and lives.
Complications from unsafe abortions are a leading cause of maternal morbidity. Approximately 68,000 women die from unsafe abortions each year.
Addressing the need for contraceptive use
Addressing the unmet need for contraceptive information and services would result in roughly:
- 22 million fewer unplanned births;
- 25 million fewer induced abortions; and
- 150,000 fewer maternal deaths each year.
Moreover, it is important to ensure that women have access to contraceptive information and services. This will empower them (and couples) to decide when and whether to have children. It will enable women to:
- complete their education;
- increase their autonomy within their households; and
- boost their earning power.
This will improve the economic security and well-being of women and their families.
Therefore, I call upon the government of Kenya to intervene. It should take affirmative steps to ensure women’s and girls’ access the full range of contraceptive methods. This should happen both in law and in practice. It should enable this by removing legal, financial, informational, and other barriers that prevent women from accessing contraceptives.
Similarly, the government of Kenya should refrain from restricting women’s ability to make free and informed choices, for example by strictly regulating or prohibiting safe abortion.
They should also ensure the elimination of all coercive practices relating to contraceptive information and services.
(The writer is a champion for sexual and reproductive health rights)