“I’ve achieved the professional success that I wanted because I had access to sexual and reproductive information and healthcare and I will be certain to ensure that my children have that too.”
Sexual and reproductive healthcare issues have now rapidly come into the spotlight, with the contention of Roe v. Wade, the domestic gag rule and the closing of abortion clinics – actions spurred in part by more pro-life individuals dominating positions of power within the U.S. government. Although many people are familiar with the benefits of reproductive healthcare services and information — increased wages for women, reduced maternal deaths and the ability to plan when and how many children to have — most don’t realize how family planning similarly impacts female leadership and how this can change the global economic and social structure.
As a women’s health issue, family planning is often not a priority for many countries considering the vast array of other critical international issues. However, sexual and reproductive healthcare services and information is essential, not only so that more women can stay healthy and are well-informed about their rights, but so that they can exercise this right to contraception use as they enter the workforce and become leaders in their industry. After all, when a girl has access to family planning from a young age, she is better able to plan her life, including the career she wants and the education needed to achieve this. By pursuing higher education opportunities, she then has the expertise and experience to apply for leadership positions at her organization. The numbers don’t lie: in the United States, after hormonal contraceptives became widely available in the 1960s, the number of women on a contraceptive pill who pursued professional careers in medicine and law increased by five percent. It’s also a domino effect: If a woman can determine if and when they want to have children, they are more likely to become economically stable and as a result, their children will be able to access better educational, economic and professional opportunities.
Many women leaders talk about the importance of reproductive health as an investment in their health and their career, one of whom is Seema Jalan, Executive Director of the Universal Access Project (UAP) at the United Nations Foundation, an initiative that aims to protect and strengthen U.S. foreign aid funding for international reproductive and sexual health and family planning. As a brown woman from New Jersey, Seema could access contraception and plan her family with her husband Archie. They are now the proud parents of two sons, a five-year-old and a one-year-old. She says “I’ve achieved the professional success that I wanted because I had access to sexual and reproductive information and healthcare and I will be certain to ensure that my children have that too.” Another celebrated leader who routinely highlights the importance of family planning is Melinda Gates, who declared in an interview that “no country in the last 50 years has escaped poverty without making sure that women have voluntary access to contraceptives.” She and her husband Bill Gates often talk about how they were both able to decide when they wanted to start a family and time their pregnancies, which helped Melinda excel at her role at Microsoft. The couple now has three grown children, and donate millions of dollars to programs that help women and children access family planning in their communities.
For developing countries like India that are trying to boost their economy and recognize the rights of women, reproductive health services are essential for increasing the number of women in the workforce and contributing to the country’s GDP. India is now one of the most gender unequal nations globally, with disproportionate numbers of women employed in the workforce and the largest unmet need for family planning in the world. According to experts, minorities have more limited access to reproductive healthcare because of significant structural barriers such as fewer healthcare facilities, low-quality education, high levels of gender discrimination and more. This impedes their ability to pursue careers and earn higher wages, which is the best way to lift themselves out of poverty. Due to these barriers, brown women — among other communities of color — have to be smarter, more strategic and fight harder for their basic rights. Whether it’s a promotion at work or contraceptive access, it’s clear that minority women need to jump through more hoops to lead a life of dignity and equality. In my view, women’s rights and happiness is everyone’s responsibility. After all, when more women have greater access to healthcare services and are in positions of power, it’s not only the people around them that benefit — it’s the entire world.