Global leaders announced their commitment toward expanding contraceptive access for women in developing countries on the second day of the Women Deliver 2013 conference, Wednesday.
Speakers discussed strategies to reach women and girls in developing countries who do not want to become pregnant, but lack access to contraceptives.
“Putting women at the center of development and delivering solutions that meet their needs will result in huge improvements in health, prosperity and quality of life,” said Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Co-Chair Melinda Gates, at the conference.
The issue is of grave concern, wrote Dr. Gamal Serour, Director of the International Islamic Center for Population Studies and Research at Cairo’s al-Azhar University, in a recent article for Al Arabiya.
“When women have access to contraceptives, maternal and child mortality rates are greatly reduced; sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are prevented; the number of safe and unsafe abortions is lowered; and pregnancy and birth-related complications are avoided.”
However, he states, women in many Muslim communities face barriers to contraceptive access as well as family planning services due to religious and cultural misconceptions.
Despite these misconceptions, “Islam is a progressive religion that encourages its followers to uphold principles and practices that ensure maternal and reproductive health,” wrote Serour.
When asked about how much of an obstacle religious fundamentalism is to family planning, Gates told Al Arabiya English that imams at the highest and lowest levels understand its necessity, but the message is not being disseminated properly.
“We have to talk to religious leaders in the right way. We have to make sure that they spread the right messages,” she said, adding that “people need to stand up and say ‘this is what’s right.’ Men need to say ‘this is right for my wife’.”
The day’s events
On Wednesday, government leaders from Africa and Asia highlighted examples of progress on family planning in their respective countries.
Indonesia’s Minister of Health, Dr. Nafsiah Mboi, announced the government’s increase in funding for long-acting reversible contraceptives, as part of its efforts to regain momentum on family planning access after recent plateaus.
Meanwhile, Senegal’s Minister of Health, Dr. Awa Coll-Seck, discussed the national family planning program’s roll-out in November 2012 and its effect on elimination contraceptive stock-outs.
“These countries show that we can make an impact on women’s access to reproductive health if we rally the necessary political will and financial commitments,” said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund, who co-chaired the morning’s session.
Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak delivered the conference’s welcoming remarks on Tuesday and discussed Malaysia’s efforts to ensure equal rights for women.
“We are honored to have this global village in our midst for the next few days.
“Together your strong voices will help frame the solutions, policies and strategies that will ensure progress for girls and women; of our nation, our region and our world,” he stated.
Women Deliver is taking place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and is the largest conference of the decade focused on the health and wellbeing of girls and women.