Mike Gilmore is a web writer at International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). The views expressed are his own.
Rio+ 20 (the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development): they came, they talked, and they went away again clutching a 49-page document which outlined “The Future We Want”.
The immediate future that everyone wants is a high level consultation to establish agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). That being the case, it’s time for the SRHR (Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights) community to make a concerted drive to ensure that whatever resolutions emerge at the end of the process are ones which place SRHR centre stage.
It’s not that SRHR groups think “it’s all about us”. What they do think is that when it comes to sustainable development, SRHR sits right at the heart of achieving virtually all and every wider development goal. In short, “it’s SRHR, stupid”. They believe that this is one of the fundamental issues that has to be tackled: it’s the “without which not” of the whole debate.
The basis of the SRHR community’s argument is that if you – yes, I mean you – have access to proper sex education and information; to secure, and certain SRHR counselling, advice, commodities, services and support; and if your sexual choices are not subject to violence, coercion or the unwarranted interference of the law or state, then:
- Your risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection will be greatly diminished
- Should you contract an STI, you will have access to appropriate treatment and counselling
- You will have the power to control your own fertility – i.e. when/whether you have children, how many you have, how far apart you space them
- Your risk of dying in childbirth or suffering post-natal health complications (for either you or your child) will radically reduce
- Should you need to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, you will face very negligible risk of death or permanent damage to your health from an unsafe abortion
These statements are not matters of personal opinion. They are obvious, incontrovertible truths. If you are part of the privileged global minority living in a country with a developed SRHR legal and service infrastructure, you need look no further than your own life, and the lives of your friends and family, for proof.
It doesn’t take an Einstein to follow through to the next “as night follows day” step in this argument. Again, not a matter of opinion, but something proven by countless studies, by countless individuals’ personal experiences, and by countless statistics, indices and reports. Read them all if you like, but the bottom-most bottom line is simplicity itself. It is this: when women and men have unrestricted access to the SRHR rights and services they need, and which are their rightful due, they:
- Start their families later
- Choose to have fewer children
- Stay in education longer
- Become more highly skilled
Have greater income generating ability Suffer fewer long-term SRH-related illnesses
This has clear development implications. Without getting too cost/benefit about it all, fundamentally, when the state pays for and supports every aspect of SRHR (but particularly contraception), the state saves money on longer term healthcare (less sickness, fewer people sick). Families earn more and have to spend less on basic survival and communities and nations prosper socially, economically and educationally. Do you doubt it? Don’t. Put yourself in the position of someone, for example, who has no contraception, and who would have no idea what to do with it if they had. Extrapolate from that, and imagine how different your life might be. This is why SRHR is so central to sustainable development.
Sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. It is very difficult for people to meet their own personal needs, or to contribute fully to wider society (economically, politically, culturally and socially), when they have no choice over how many children they have. It is even more difficult to see how the future needs of their families and their family’s families will be met.
No one is seeking to impose anything on anybody. Have seven, eight, nine children if you want. That’s not the issue. We should all have freedom of choice. People like to raise some spectre of “population control”. Some ghastly plot by somebody for some reason or other. But it has nothing to do with “population control” which is, quite frankly, ridiculous. It’s about what people want for themselves.
This is the argument of the SRHR community. This is why the SRHR community believes that SRHR must sit at the heart of the sustainable development debate, because so many issues of production, consumption, depletion of resources, degradation of the environment and poverty are dependent on the choices we make – we are able to make - over our sexual and reproductive health.
So that is the impassioned soap-box pronouncement. But what happens next so far as the political process is concerned? Well, reviews on what has been learned from the Millennium Development Goals and what the next framework should look like are underway. The hope is that whatever framework is developed might merge the SDGs with the post-MDG framework to create a unified set of development targets. And we have to make sure that when this framework is developed, SRHR is integrated into its heart and soul. Not piecemeal. Not a bit here, a bit there, but absolutely.
Do you know what is so exhausting about all this? It’s that the argument regarding people’s fundamental need for SRHR is so obvious and undeniable, and the argument that proper SRHR is central to sustainable development is so watertight, and yet so few governments seem ready to invest in it as wholeheartedly as it demands. Most of us are not politicians. Most of us would think that if there’s something you can do that is proven to help people in their millions and saves thousands of lives … well, don’t just sit around and chat about it. (With apologies to all those who have sensitivities over sentiments hi-jacked by commerce): just do it.