From Here To Uganda: Why U.S. Leadership On Reproductive Rights Matters

03/23/2017 09:57 am ET Updated Mar 23, 2017

Margaret Nakanjakke was born in a small village in Uganda. As a young adult, she worked hard selling banana leaves, eggplant and plantains by the roadside to support her family and pay her school fees. A star student – and close to graduation – Margaret became pregnant at age 18.

Margaret dropped out of school and was kicked out of her home. She gave birth to a son, but he was taken from her against her wishes – she wouldn’t see him again for 10 years. Forced to live on her own, Margaret found work as a janitor for Reproductive Health Uganda (RHU), where she began learning about her reproductive rights and health, family planning, and contraception – information and services she never had access to as a child and adolescent.

“If I had known about at least condoms, or the pill, I wouldn't have gotten pregnant,” said Margaret. “Because I didn't want that. It did not occur to me that I was going to get pregnant.”

Margaret was one of more than 225 million women around the world who want to control the timing, number and spacing of their children but are not using modern contraceptives. As the largest funder of international reproductive health and family planning programs – including RHU, where Margaret works – U.S. foreign aid helps women just like Margaret access the information and resources they need to plan their families and their futures. In 2016 alone, U.S. funding for such programs provided 27 million women and couples around the world with the contraceptive services and supplies they wanted.

But this access is in serious jeopardy.

Unprecedented efforts are under way to roll back gains in sexual and reproductive health and rights around the world. The U.S. Administration’s January reinstatement and dramatic expansion of the Global Gag Rule will make it more difficult for millions of girls and women to access the contraception and health care they need. Just last week, the president’s proposed budget outlined slashed funding for the United Nations, which would drastically impact UN agencies providing humanitarian assistance – including reproductive health and family planning – across the globe.

These policy and funding changes mean that health care clinics worldwide will be forced to close; that the world’s poorest families will lose access not only to family planning but also to crucial services like maternal and child health care, HIV testing and counseling, and comprehensive sex education; and that the delivery of irreplaceable humanitarian services like domestic violence counseling, pregnancy checkups, and even safe childbirth will be on the line.

This impact is not limited to women and girls. Access to reproductive health care and family planning generates a ripple effect, creating healthier and more prosperous families, communities, societies and economies. Now is the time to build on progress, not to reverse it. We can support the dreams of millions of girls and women like Margaret – and that of their families and communities – but only if the U.S. protects critical investments in women’s health globally.

Margaret eventually got married to man she loves and had two more children, whom she planned, using contraception.

“The people down here, they are capable of being anyone,” she said. “But they need help … I tell you, our girls can go far.”

Learn more about the Universal Access Project and get involved at www.universalaccessproject.org.

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