5 Things You Need To Know About Birth Control Around The World

Marie Stopes International (MSI) and several influential Islamic scholars joined up last week to vigorously campaign both for the spread of birth control and contraceptives for Afghan women, and to combat the cultural stigma against women who choose to utilize these most valuable resources. In Afghanistan, abortion is illegal although birth control is not, but access to birth control is incredibly limited. Educators based in Afghanistan are currently campaigning and teaching about family planning, the benefits of smaller families, and how Islam does not explicitly oppose any of this. But frankly, these Afghan activists are schooling us all with global birth control facts.

In case you think birth control and access to reproductive choice, in general, aren’t important issues anymore, here’s your daily reminder that in 2015 alone, the World Health Organization estimated that death as a result of childbirth constituted 17.7 percent of all deaths for Afghan women of childbearing age. Yet as of 2012, only about 20 percent of Afghan women have access to birth control, and the majority of these women are wealthy and educated, according to the United Nations Population Fund. This proves that in all parts of the world, class is a fairly decisive factor in terms of how much autonomy women have over their bodies.

And as MSI and other global organizations escalate their campaigns for family planning, here’s a few things to note about the current state of birth control around the world.

1. Where birth control and contraceptives aren’t illegal, they’re still cultural taboos.

At least in Afghanistan, according to MSI organizers and scholars who spoke with the AFP, class definitely plays a role in who has access to family planning resources. But another key factor standing in the way of women and birth control is cultural stigma, Mic reports. And frankly, it’s not just Afghanistan.

Whether it’s Asia, Latin America, Africa, or modern American society and its annoying, lingering ties to its Puritanical roots, birth control remains closely associated with female sexuality and autonomy. It enables women to defy the idea that procreation is their only excuse to engage in sexual intercourse, a concept that, today, remains annoyingly controversial.

Cultural stigma is hardly something that can be quantified, but it definitely plays at least some role in discouraging even women who do have the socioeconomic privilege to obtain birth control from doing so.

Still, on the plus side, the World Health Organization reports that, “Globally, use of modern contraception has risen slightly, from 54% in 1990 to 57.4% in 2014.”

2. Birth control has also been used as a weapon against women.

Last month, the New York Times reported that ISIS was forcing birth control, and occasionally, even abortion, on captured sex slaves to adhere to a disturbing, ancient Islamic law prohibiting men from raping or selling pregnant slaves. Birth control is thus manipulated by ISIS as a means of keeping the sex slave trade in circulation and further enabling rape.

With good reason, we frequently equate birth control with bodily autonomy and choice for women. But it’s important to note that in some parts of the world, it’s also being used as a weapon to further subjugate them.

3. When it comes to nations lacking reproductive choice, the U.S. can’t actually help much.

birth control global women
CREDIT: Brianne/Flickr

So long as the Helm any Hyde amendments remain in place, the U.S. is not able to allocate taxpayer funding toward abortion and family planning services in nations where these are prohibited. So, in case you ever hear anyone claim the struggle for reproductive rights is over and it’s time for feminists to sit down, feel free to let them know just how inaccurate and white-centric their thinking is.

Incidentally, both Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have recently come out opposing these amendments while, on the other side of the aisle, Republican front-runner Donald Trump was busy suggesting that we punish women for obtaining abortions.

4. The “threatens the mother’s health” clause actually doesn’t help all that much.

Even the most anti-choice of them all tend to tack friendly little disclaimer clauses at the end of their stances on abortion. “With exceptions in cases of rape, incest, and threats to the mother’s health,” is a fairly common one. Policies that prohibit abortion with the exceptions of “rape, incest, or threats to the mother’s health” are fairly pervasive in Latin America, where, in some nations, the only exception made is for “threats to the mother’s health.” And the case of a 10-year-old girl in Paraguay impregnated allegedly by her stepfather, last year, serves as proof of just how meaningless these exceptions are. When doctors somehow managed to deem that her pregnancy did not threaten her health, she was forced to carry it to term.

And even in the U.S., how much do anti-choice politicians’ rape exceptions mean when they’re also consistently behind movements to undermine and discredit victims of rape?

5. Global health crises have rendered abortion rights more important now than ever before.

Pope Francis recently conceded some openness to birth control for women, in light of the rise of the Zika virus in Latin America. As a brief refresher, the virus, transmitted to people primarily through the bite of infected mosquitos, can result in severe defects in newborn children if the mother becomes infected. I think we can all agree it’s pretty important that women who are infected with the virus don’t become pregnant, and the Pope’s mild progress on reproductive choice is a sound alternative to Latin American governments’ sanctions for local women to, essentially, just avoid sex altogether.

However, in either case, whether it’s determined abstinence or cautious use of contraceptives, conception is never impossible, especially considering the unfortunately rather high rates of sexual assault in Latin America. And after an infected woman conceives, then what?

Global health crises such as these powerfully highlight the importance of and enduring need for family planning at every level.

6. We’re all better off when women, anywhere in the world, have access to birth control…

According to the UNFP, “women with an unmet need for contraceptives live in 69 of the poorest countries on earth.” In addition, the UNFP reports that women without access to family planning resources often resort to dangerous and harmful methods to avoid pregnancy which, if you are among the more evolved members of society and consider women to be members of the public sphere, isn’t exactly great for public health. At the same time, a balanced population size can equate reduced spread of dangerous diseases, as well as poverty, and less strain on resources.

7. …But women around the world are best off when they have access to birth control and family planning.

In developing nations, women who receive family planning education and have access to birth control are able to pursue educations, careers, and independence. They end up with smaller families and are often more stable, financially.

This research might speak to women in developing nations, in particular, but even looking at the United States, it’s fairly safe to say that sex ed and contraceptives are in the best interest of girls and public health. In states where there is sex ed, teenage pregnancy rates are lower, which seems like a pretty obvious statement but you’d be surprised by how many people still aren’t quite getting this.