THE BLOG

How Can We Make Women Count When the Numbers Don't Add Up?

21/09/2014 23:47 BST | Updated 21/11/2014 10:59 GMT

It's an inconvenient truth to those who are allegedly 'pro-life' that millions of women risk their lives going to desperate measures to end a pregnancy they didn't want.

These women have not contracted incurable diseases. Tens of thousands are dying because we have decided that they are dispensable, their lives are not worth investing in. Meanwhile the millions of 'lucky' ones that live to tell the tale are often subjected to excruciating pain, permanent disability or even infertility.

It's tough to hear, but what is even more shameful is we know how to stop this happening.

It's actually really simple: by investing to make contraception available to every woman who wants it, improving access to safe abortion where it's legal and making sure that medical care is readily available when things go wrong we can make a real difference. It's not rocket science - even for someone still relatively new to the development sector like me.

I joined Marie Stopes International a year ago and in that time have learned to appreciate the UN's development goals. They have made the world a safer place for women, reducing maternal mortality by nearly half since 1990. But for the millions of women who are forced to seek out backstreet abortionists or mutilate their own bodies to end an unwanted pregnancy any self-congratulation must fall pretty flat.

It's simple. We are not doing enough. Not enough for the 222million women who don't want to get pregnant, but aren't able to use contraception. Not enough for the eight million women every year who are injured or permanently disabled from unsafe abortions and certainly not enough for the 47,000 a year who die from it.

As bad as they are, those numbers are just a drop in the ocean of what is to come if we don't act now to double our efforts and our investment.

In 2012, more than 20 governments set the goal of expanding family planning services to 120 million more women by 2020. Yet population growth and our over reliance on short term methods like condoms and the pill have combined to make this target woefully out of date. My organisation, Marie Stopes International, estimates that the world will need to serve on average 177million women across the developing world every year until the end of the decade, just to maintain the current percentage using contraception. Makes all our grand efforts seem pretty insignificant doesn't it?

Moving from the corporate sector where the balance sheet is king to the more measured, idealistic, world of international development, I expected the focus to shift. I welcomed it even. But when the numbers don't add up it's time to reassess. Because we shouldn't forget that these numbers represent individual and often vulnerable women. We are not being idealistic - or aggressive - enough.

Women have always found themselves faced with unwanted pregnancies. But what we in the developed world can forget is that for millions of women, pregnancy can still mean a very real confrontation with death and, predictably, some of those hardest hit are the youngest.

Teenagers, sometimes no more than children themselves, risk their lives if they become pregnant, with complications from pregnancy and unsafe abortion, representing the single biggest killer of girls aged 15-19.

In the developed world, we often take for granted that our daughters will be able to control their own futures, but that privilege should not just be confined to girls by an accident of birth.

This challenge is not insurmountable. Marie Stopes International estimates that if by 2020 we were reaching all women with an unmet need for contraception over 80,000 lives would be saved. While full access to safe abortion and post abortion care could save 30,000 more. Millions more women would also live lives free of the other devastating consequences of unsafe abortion such as disability and infertility.

This week, as world leaders gather in New York to consider priorities beyond 2015, instead of patting ourselves on the back for what we have already achieved we need to invest more, push harder. The benefits are enormous if we do: more women in education, better health for their existing children, more employment for women should they choose, and improved economies in the societies in which they live.

Now is the Time to Act. We cannot, and should not, sit and wait for more women to lose out on opportunities, for more women to die.

The women who die from unsafe abortions are often young and they are often impoverished. Let's show them through our actions as well as our words, they are not dispensable.

For more information on why now is the Time to Act read Marie Stopes International's report on unsafe abortion here.