World Population Day (WPD) can mean a host of different things to different people. But each year, it causes me to stop and think about the work we are doing to address unmet need for family planning around the world. We continue to make progress on the Millennium Development Goals, but as we look ahead, I think about the more than 220 million women who want to delay or avoid pregnancy but still lack access to contraception. Understanding why universal access to reproductive health continues to fall behind other development goals is critical to bridging the gap in unmet need, and I can think of no better day than WPD to determine where we go from here.
EngenderHealth, the global women's health organization I lead, recently turned 70. The world was a very different place 70 years ago. At that time, an entire generation of women who were living right here in the United States faced severely limited family planning options. For women like my mother, 1944 was a time when women could only choose between permanent contraception and barrier methods, which were not entirely effective. This left many women with unplanned pregnancies and large families that they couldn't necessarily support.
Family planning options, access, and availability have evolved tremendously in recent decades. And with their evolution, lives have been transformed -- in some places more than others. The reality is that it is still 1944 for many women living in poor areas of the world.
Some see WPD as a day to focus on the population "boom," or overpopulation, but ultimately this just distracts people from a universal truth: If women and girls can access contraception, they are more likely to finish school, they will have fewer children by choice, and they are more likely to prosper. This is what many of us have experienced in our own lives. What keeps me up at night is how we can make this a reality for the millions of other women.
There is more we can all do, so make today count. Tell me what WPD means to you and join the conversation on Twitter.