In many parts of the world, women lack control of their reproductive rights. This can be a result of economic barriers, the absence of education about family planning methods, religious and cultural restrictions, and limits on access to various forms of birth control. When women do not have control of their reproductive health, it can extend into other parts of their lives as well; many young girls continue to be victims of child marriage and female genital mutilation, pregnancies can be very dangerous due to inadequate prenatal care, and death as a result of pregnancy complications is a real risk that many women face. Additionally, when women do not have control over their reproductive health, they face an increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Today, women constitute more than half of all people worldwide living with HIV. AIDS-related illnesses remain the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age (15-44). Young women (10-24 years), and adolescent girls (10-19 years) in particular, account for a disproportionate number of new HIV infections. In fact, young women are twice as likely to acquire HIV as their male counterparts. Consequently, these women are also at an increased risk of transmitting the disease to their children, especially when those pregnancies are unplanned and/or when the mother does not have access to appropriate medical care throughout her pregnancy.
There are steps being made towards addressing the conditions that result in these increased dangers. A medical study out of Mumbai, India found that improved access to family planning education and birth control methods helped reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies, and by extension, the number of children being born with HIV infections contracted from their mothers. Additionally, studies in Kenya and Swaziland in 2008 and 2013 found that when women had access to both prenatal and HIV/AIDS treatment at the same health care facilities, they were more likely to seek the treatments. Laws establishing a minimum age for marriage help to combat the practice of child marriage, which strips young girls of the ability to control their own future. Furthermore, laws against domestic violence and sexual assault are fostering a safer environment for women and girls, which in turn reduces their risk of contracting an STD.
Steps must continue to be taken to improve reproductive health and autonomy for all women. As long as women are deprived of control over their own reproductive health, they will remain in increased danger for complicated pregnancies, contracting sexually transmitted diseases, and other health risks. The international community must strive to build on the success of previous measures, because increases in female and maternal health drive corresponding increases in community and family health. Potential options include expansion of sex education programs for women, in order to ensure they’re more informed about the risks of pregnancy and unprotected sex, and the broader provision of birth control and contraceptive devices. The committee should also consider societal attitudes toward and the availability of male contraceptives. Wider understanding of the benefits and proper usage of male contraceptives could reduce unwanted pregnancies and give women greater reproductive control. The road will not be easy – gender roles often have a variety of social, cultural, and religious roots, and are deeply entrenched. As such, opposition to change may be difficult to navigate.