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Pamela Barnes Headshot

Why It Matters to Me and to 220 Million Women

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Reproductive rights are human rights. This is my daily rallying cry as the Chief Executive Officer of EngenderHealth, a global women's health organization.

The right to decide whether to have children, how many to have, and when to have them is a core human right for women everywhere, and having the option of a full range of contraceptive methods ensures that this right can be upheld.

Yet, there are currently more than 220 million who want contraception but don't have access to it. This is one of the most important rights issues of this century. It has implications for the health, education, and economic security of individual families, communities, and nations as a whole.

Why does it matter? First and foremost, failing to provide contraception and ignoring a woman's stated desire for family planning can put her life at risk -- every 90 seconds, a woman dies due to complications during pregnancy or childbirth. An estimated two-thirds of these deaths could be prevented with access to contraception. Also, an unwanted pregnancy can strain a couple's meager financial or emotional resources, leaving them unable to properly care for or nourish their baby. And when a woman dies during pregnancy or childbirth, the ramifications for the children she leaves behind can be devastating.

Moreover, access to contraception makes a crucial contribution to empowering women and ending gender inequities. When women have the right to choose the number of children they want and can stay healthy, the results can be transformative -- they have increased opportunities to finish their education or start and maintain their own business, which means a better future for themselves and their families.

For 70 years, EngenderHealth has made it our business to ensure high-quality sexual and reproductive health care, including a wide range of contraceptive options for women and men in more than 100 countries. Even in the most remote settings, we know that health care professionals can be trained to ensure that all women, regardless of their economic status, can maintain control of their health. We also know that to be successful, we must reach beyond the clinic walls by partnering with communities and policymakers.

We are at a critical turning point. The time is now to redouble efforts to secure rights and high-quality care, including access to all methods of contraception, from the pill and voluntary female sterilization to everything in between. To do any less would be an injustice.