Contraception is a method used to prevent pregnancy. There are many options when it comes to choosing the contraceptive that is right for you. Male and female condoms have the added protection of preventing against STIs.

Why Politicians are Trying to Rob a Generation of their Right to Sex-Ed

Sex-ed, when done well, saves lives, so what young people stand to lose in this fight is clear: health, safety and wellbeing.

Op-Ed by Action Canada
Originally published in the Huffington Post

Sex-ed has become a hot political topic across the country.

At the same time as tens of thousands of Ontario school students staged walkouts to protest the return of an outrageously outdated health curriculum, social conservatives in British Columbia are banding together to run municipal election platforms against LGBTQ curriculum content.

For many parents, voters and politicians, sex-ed is understood as part of the health and wellbeing of young people. At the same time, we’re seeing a rise in the exploitation of people’s fears with misinformation to win political points.

What young people stand to lose in this fight is clear: health, safety and wellbeing. Sex-ed, when done well, saves lives. Comprehensive and inclusive sex-ed leads to declining STI and unintended pregnancy rates, the prevention of gender-based violence, and increased school safety for LGBTQ students. When sex-ed uses an explicit human rights-based approach, it even increases open dialogue with parents about sex and relationships.

Those very facts should be enough to end the debate. Yet despite the research and overwhelming parental support for sex-ed in schools, a small but vocal minority who want it abolished are being rewarded by a disproportionate amount of media attention and political success.

The backlash to a resource that was developed in collaboration with the B.C. Ministry of Education to create safer learning environments for LGBTQ students is disturbingly similar to what transpired in Ontario.

Rallies are being held in front of the provincial legislature, rampant misinformation about the content of the toolkit and lesson plans is spreading, and political platforms are being built to roll-back the resource in schools where it’s currently being used and to ban it from schools where it isn’t.

The lobbying success of these groups in B.C., like Ontario, is a symptom of the growing political influence of a once-fringe brand of social conservatism. Conservatives are being told that their worldview is under attack and that the classroom is an appropriate venue to wage war against the human rights of women, girls and LGBTQ youth.

A genuine fight for human rights and freedoms is never won at the expense of others.

The morality showdown is cleverly cloaked in language appropriated from a human rights lexicon. Parental rights are pitted against the health and rights of young people, as if it’s a zero-sum game. Freedom of parental expression is invoked to curtail freedom of gender expression. Freedom of religion is used to undermine support for sexual minorities and the notion that a robust health education will benefit all of our children.

Misinformation about what is being taught is being used to gain political support under the guise of protecting children.

In the end it comes down to this: human rights are interconnected and equal, they extend only insofar as they don’t harm another person. A genuine fight for human rights and freedoms is never won at the expense of others.

Freedom of expression, for example, cannot override people’s right to health, to education and to live free from violence and discrimination; it cannot override the right to sex-ed, which is enshrined in international human rights laws and protected by global experts such as the World Health Organization.

In Ontario, bolstered by the many complaints made by young people and parents, the Ontario Human Rights Commission filed a notice of intervention last week with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to protect the rights of girls and LGBTQ students who will suffer the most from sub-par sex-ed.

In B.C., resistance to backlash has taken the form of a youth-led campaign called “Sex ed is Our Right.”

Every one of us is entitled to receive relevant, accurate education and health information throughout our lives, and no government has the authority to deny it to an entire generation.

Resistance matters and your voice counts. If you believe in every person’s right to live a safe, healthy life that is free from violence, make yourself heard. Young people need you.

Humanitarian experts laud Trudeau’s commitment to reproductive services abroad

Source: | iPolitics

Humanitarian groups are lauding the federal government’s commitment to initiatives abroad that focus on sexual reproductive health services — noting it as a marked change from the previous government that excluded those services.

“I just want to commend the government of Canada for their incredible leadership in keeping gender equity and sexual reproductive rights at the forefront of [its] feminist foreign policy and core part of all the humanitarian aid and support,” said Christina Wegs of CARE International and the lead on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Wegs was joined by Sandeep Prasad, the executive director of Action Canada for sexual health and rights, Muzna Dureid, a Syrian activist and women’s rights defender and Onyema Afulukwe, a senior counsel for Africa, global legal program and centre for reproductive rights, at a press conference on Parliament Hill Thursday morning.

The humanitarian experts said they met with International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau Thursday morning and held a panel discussion on marginalized women and girls reproductive health and rights.

While the groups are calling on the government to commit to a sexual and reproductive health and rights policy that includes new funding for women and girls in crisis — they largely celebrated the commitments that have been made so far and acknowledged that it’s quite a contrast from the previous Conservative government.

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Annual Report 2016-2017

Whether it’s been campaigning for universal cost coverage of medical abortion, launching a cutting-edge resource for teaching sexuality education in schools, securing a major investment in global SRHR from the government Canada, offering thousands of people the health information they are looking for, or supporting sexual and reproductive rights defenders around the world to hold their governments accountable, we’ve been working tirelessly to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights in Canada and globally.

Read our Annual Report to learn about the significant strides we made in 2016-2017 »

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Beyond the Basics is a resource for educators that offers the tools to teach young people about sexuality and sexual health from a sex positive, human rights perspective. Covering topics that range from anatomy to consent and healthy relationships, Beyond the Basics approaches sexuality education across all gender identities and sexual orientations with activities that help move students from receiving information to making decisions based on critical thinking skills and empowerment. Recognizing the time pressures educators face, Beyond the Basics is written to easily move in and out of chapters, modules, and activities that suit the particular age, maturity, and trust in each classroom.

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In the world’s worst crises, access to sexual and reproductive health and rights is paramount

Op-Ed originally published in OpenCanada.Org by Sandeep Prasad, Executive Director of Action Canada, and Gillian Barth, President and CEO of CARE Canada.

As countries prepare to meet in London for the Family Planning 2020 conference on July 11, Canada has a unique opportunity to remind the international community that promoting sexual and reproductive rights during humanitarian crises saves lives — just like clean water, shelter and food.

Every day, some 2,000 refugees pour into northwestern Uganda from South Sudan. Fearing conflict, over 600,000 refugees — mostly women and children — have migrated this past year alone. South Sudan is the fastest-growing refugee crisis, but the pattern is not isolated to the world’s youngest country.

In Yemen, more than half of women’s demand for contraception is unmet. Along with the reality of contraceptive failure, this led to over 550,000 unintended pregnancies in 2016. Women who want access to contraceptive and safe abortion services don’t have such a choice.

As the international community scrambles to meet basic needs like water, shelter, food and sanitation, access to sexual and reproductive health and rights — including abortion — are often treated as low priority. The consequences are grave.

The need for comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services becomes more acute in emergency settings. People affected by armed conflict and natural disasters are at increased risk of sexual violence, maternal morbidity and mortality and complications from unsafe abortions. Unsurprisingly, demand for contraceptives and abortion in humanitarian settings is fierce; for example, nearly three-quarters of pregnant Syrian refugee women surveyed in Lebanon wished to prevent future pregnancy, and more than one half did not desire their current pregnancy. Moreover, empowering individuals to claim their reproductive rights is feasible, even in the most challenging contexts.

To truly mitigate humanitarian crises, governments and civil society need to adopt a feminist and human rights-based approach. This means we cannot ignore the greater picture that surrounds gender-based discrimination. It means we must seek out rights-based, comprehensive solutions, even within crises. It means we must make sure that where reproductive services are provided, several options for each service are made available along with information that is accessible, high quality and youth friendly. The way contraceptives have been delivered in the past has worked to limit individual choice. We need to commit to ensuring that all women can exercise free, full and informed choices about their reproductive lives, including access to the full range of contraceptive methods. In crisis-affected settings, we need to invest in programs that build people’s understanding of their sexual and reproductive rights and that empower them to shape and monitor the services they receive, so that these services respond to their demands and fulfill their rights.

When, in January, the White House stopped funding organizations that provide information, referrals or services for legal abortion or that advocate for access to abortion services, it opened a US$600 million annual funding gap for reproductive health worldwide. It is more important now than ever that governments, donors and civil society commit to investing in evidence-based, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services that ensure all people have the information and services they need to make free, full and informed choices about their bodies and their lives.

Moreover, investments must be followed with accountability systems, including data collection grounded in feminist methodologies. When disaggregated gender sensitive data is not collected, the needs of women — and the most disadvantaged among them — are made invisible. When health systems, services providers and governments coordinate towards stronger monitoring, the arguments for rights-based sexual and reproductive health become undeniable.

Last month, the Government of Canada announced its first feminist international assistance policy. This landmark policy pledges that by 2021/2022, at least 95 percent of Canada’s bilateral international development assistance investments will either target or integrate gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. The new policy is accompanied by a $CAD650 million commitment over three years to support comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care in development contexts. This funding is intended to “fill the gaps” created by Canada’s former policies to restricted funding for sexual and reproductive health and rights, including contraception and safe abortion. Furthermore, in March 2017, Canada pledged $CAD20 million towards the She Decides movement, which seeks international cooperation to fill the global funding gap created by the United States’ Mexico City Policy. Fulfilling the fundamental rights of girls and women is the stated mandate of the She Decides movement, and we expect the July 11 London Family Planning Summit to continue, in this way, to promote choice and human rights.

As the summit aims to expand access to family planning information, services and supplies in 69 of the worlds’ poorest nations, it provides a unique and timely opportunity for Canada to put its feminist vision into action. Towards this end, Canada should include four key actions among its priorities at the summit to help unlock access to rights-based sexual and reproductive services for all women and girls affected by crisis and conflict:

First, Canada should encourage crisis-affected countries to create programs and frameworks for sexual health and rights in humanitarian settings. Many such countries continue to have low contraceptive prevalence rates, along with high maternal and infant mortality rates.

Second, Canada should announce its intention to complement its new feminist international assistance policy with a specific humanitarian policy that ensures investments in sexual and reproductive health information, education and services are a core element in all its crisis-responses.

Third, Canada should work with governments to ensure that their investments in strengthening health systems’ ability to withstand crises includes the promotion of sexual and reproductive health. Even in fragile states and chronically unstable contexts, governments have leveraged investments in humanitarian preparedness and response to mobilize new resources, improve policies and strengthen the capacity of health systems. Canada must push to unlock access to reproductive choices in times of stability as well as crisis.

Finally, Canada should coordinate its investments with other donors to ensure continuity of support for sexual and reproductive health and rights, from stable times to the acute onset of crises through protracted crises. As climate change and political instability contribute to more prevalent and longer humanitarian crises, funding and coordination mechanisms must be adapted to function effectively in long-term, protracted crises.

In the context of a political climate that threatens decades of progress on human rights, support for comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights in humanitarian settings is an area in which Canadian leadership could fill a vital and growing gap. The summit in London is an opportunity for Canada to underscore that access to sexual and reproductive health services in crisis-affected settings is lifesaving, empowering and cost-effective, and to fulfill its international obligation to promote human rights in some of the harshest environments in the world.

Trump’s aid cuts risk pushing African women ‘into the Dark Ages,’ spelling trouble for rising world population

Africa’s staggering growth is fuelling a global migration crisis and keeping millions in poverty and constant pregnancy. But Washington is cutting support for family planning programs, while Ottawa is ramping it up. In Benin, Geoffrey York takes a look at the African women whose futures are at stake

Source: Geoffrey York | Globe and Mail

The contraception boat has arrived, and now it’s time for a party. “Ladies, have you heard the news?” the singer tells the villagers as his drummers strike up a pulsing beat.

“You can take a pill every day,” he croons to the women sitting beneath a sprawling tree where goats and chickens roam past. “You can be with your husband and only have children when you want.”

Women leap to their feet and dance to the music. “Shame on the men who have lots of wives,” the singer tells them as he prepares for a condom demonstration. “Woe to the women who have lots of children. Two is okay, three is already good.”

Many of the women in this isolated village have never heard of modern contraception. But when the music is finished and the dancing is over, a few climb aboard the brightly painted boat, venturing inside for their first glimpse of a new future.

Villages such as this one, in rural Benin, are the fragile front line of a global battle over population growth and women’s bodies – a battle that has now expanded to draw in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump on conflicting sides of the issue.

The contraception boat and its crew, puttering cheerfully from village to village in a lagoon in southern Benin, is the latest innovation in an intensifying campaign by family-planning agencies to break the cycle of near-constant pregnancy that exhausts and oppresses millions of African women and stokes the rapid growth of population and migration worldwide.

But the contraception campaign has been dealt a blow by Mr. Trump. Just days after taking office, he ordered a halt to an estimated $600-million (U.S.) in annual support for family planning and health programs overseas. Any international program in which women are informed about the abortion option will have its U.S. funding removed, in a policy known as the “global gag rule.”

This week, Mr. Trump went even further. His administration announced that it will eliminate all U.S. support to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), accusing it of supporting a Chinese agency in “coercive abortion” policies, despite an earlier U.S. acknowledgment that there is no evidence of UNFPA funding for abortions in China. The eliminated U.S. funds will have a huge impact on reproductive health programs in the developing world, since the United States has been one of the biggest donors to the UN program.

The Trump cuts, an expanded version of earlier Republican policies, have triggered a global push back. Analysts say the Trump policy could lead to 6.5 million unintended pregnancies over the next four years. A new global fund to replace the lost U.S. money has raised about $200-million so far, including $20-million (Canadian) from Canada. Without it, women could be pushed “into the Dark Ages,” according to Belgium’s deputy prime minister, Alexander De Croo.

In addition to its contribution to the new fund, Canada launched a bigger response to the Trump cuts on March 8, International Women’s Day, when Mr. Trudeau announced a $650-million three-year fund for reproductive and sexual health and rights in the developing world, including contraception and legal abortion programs.

African women are at the centre of these issues, but politicians have neglected them for decades. To understand the human pain and conflict at the heart of the population debates, The Globe and Mail travelled to the remote fishing villages of Benin. In these impoverished corners of the continent, the contraception campaign is more urgent than almost anywhere else in the world.

In a country like Benin, the impact of the campaign could be enormous. It finally offers hope to long-suffering women whose health has been badly damaged by decades of child-bearing.

But it could also help to slow the rapid rate of population growth that has helped create a global migration crisis, which in turn has fuelled the rise of nationalist politicians in Europe and the United States, along with controversial policies such as Mr. Trump’s temporary halt to migrants from six Muslim-majority countries. The migration pressures from Africa’s soaring population will also be felt in Canada, where immigration remains a divisive issue.

The fertility rate in Sub-Saharan Africa today is alarmingly high: about 5.1 children in a woman’s lifetime, more than double the global average. And the population boom is concentrated in the world’s poorest and most fragile countries, the ones least able to cope. The world’s highest fertility rates today are in the impoverished West African nations of Niger (7.5 children per woman) and Mali (6.8 children).

Benin’s fertility rate is not far behind those nations. “If you tell your husband that you don’t want a large family, he will just go and marry another woman,” says Christiane Djengue, the mother of eight children in the fishing village of Houedo-Gbadji in southern Benin.

“It’s a lot of pressure. Our husbands love children and large families.”

Her husband, Jacob, is happy with his big family, and even took a second wife. “You need a lot of babies because you never know how many are going to live and how many are going to die,” he says. “What if we had only two babies and both died?”

But the cost to his wife is enormous. She has given birth 10 times over the past 19 years, and two of her children died. “I’ve had too many babies,” she says. “I feel sicker and weaker. I suffer illnesses, like hypertension. I get headaches and vertigo and fatigue.”

What’s at stake in the population battle

If the family planning campaign can reduce Africa’s stubbornly high birth rate, it will not only bring new freedoms to African women – it could also curb an explosive rate of population growth that threatens the future of the planet.

Population growth is helping to fuel many of the world’s biggest crises, from climate change to migration and war. Many African countries can’t produce enough jobs to keep pace with the birth rate, and people are left fighting over diminishing resources. The impact can be felt from the refugee camps of Nigeria and the malnourished children of Central Africa to the migrant boats of the Mediterranean and the human-trafficking routes of the Sahara and the Middle East.

Demography helps to explain why Africa is becoming increasingly crucial to the fate of the Earth. While the rest of the world has seen a sharp drop in its birth rate in recent decades, Africa’s fertility rate has remained persistently high, to the surprise of experts who assumed Africa would follow the global pattern.

Africa’s growth is now expected to be much more rapid than demographers had predicted. By the end of this century, the continent will be home to 4.4 billion people – a staggering fourfold increase from today, and double the number that the United Nations had been predicting a decade ago.

By the year 2100, according to UN studies, nearly half of the world’s children will be African. The continent will account for more than 80 per cent of global population growth, pushing the world’s population to a new peak of 11.2 billion. For better or worse, Africa will shape the world’s destiny.

As the population boom gains momentum, humanity is increasingly becoming African. By the end of the century, about 40 per cent of the world’s population will be African. Five of the world’s 10 most populous countries will be African countries: Nigeria, Ethiopia, Congo, Niger and Tanzania. One nation alone, Nigeria, is projected to have 752 million people by 2100 and will be contributing more births to the world than any other country.

The consequences for the planet’s health and environment will be immense. Africa’s economies are unlikely to keep pace with this dramatic population increase. The result could be an escalating crisis in hunger, overcrowding, ecological damage, and rising migration pressures in Europe and North America and within Africa itself.

The Globe’s investigation in Benin helps reveal how this extraordinary African population boom is driven by a disturbing pattern of inequality and discrimination against women. Shackled by illiteracy, poverty and cultural taboos, a quarter of married African women who want to avoid pregnancy still have no access to modern contraception. They remain subject to traditional and religious leaders who urge them to have large families, despite the risks to their health. Husbands and elders routinely pressure them into having more children than they can safely nurture.

Many African women have their first children in their teenage years and continue with scarcely a pause for much of their adulthood. Many women believe they need their husband’s authorization before they can take contraception. Rumours and religious edicts have persuaded them that birth control is dangerous. And many African nations contribute to the crisis by criminalizing abortion and making contraception difficult to obtain, in rural regions especially.

“Our pastor told us that we can never use family planning,” says Claudine Degbo, who belongs to a Methodist church in her home village of So-Ava in southern Benin.

After her first two children, she felt that her family was too poor to afford more. But she felt obliged to obey her husband and her church. She knew nothing about contraception, and it was impossible to talk to her husband about her desire to avoid pregnancy. So she had two more children, and both died. And then her husband took two more wives, so that he could have more children. “If I was to tell you about my suffering, it would take the whole day,” Ms. Degbo says.

Yet throughout her ordeals, she has never questioned the pastor’s edict that contraception is banned. “Our faith forbids it,” she says. “When a teacher tells you something, you should obey.”

To be sure, some African countries have made progress on family planning, especially in urban areas. Countries such as Zambia and Kenya have rapidly boosted the availability and use of contraception. But a recent study by a non-profit partnership, Family Planning 2020, identified 14 countries worldwide with the slowest growth in the use of contraception – and all 14 were in Africa.

Outside of Kenya and Southern Africa, less than 30 per cent of African women are using modern contraception. In many regions of West Africa and Central Africa, less than 10 per cent of women are using contraception. In Benin, for example, only about 7 per cent of married women are using contraception.

That’s why the UNFPA and its local partners in Benin have begun using innovative ideas such as the “contraception boat” to provide information and supplies to remote villages where families of 10 or 12 children are still common.

The boat and the women

Every day, the boat cruises slowly through a lagoon of fishing villages known as So-Ava, home to some 120,000 of the poorest people in the country. Most live in rickety huts of wooden slats and metal roofs, suspended over the water on stilts. Small canoes are their only link to the outside world. The birth rate in rural Benin is 5.4 children per woman, but in So-Ava the average is seven children.

The flat-bottomed boat, nicknamed the Barque Mobile, uses a loudspeaker and a raucous sound system to attract attention. As it motors down the canals and rivers, it pumps out a steady beat of loud rhythmic music. Men sometimes dance on the stairs of their stilt houses as the boat passes.

At each village, when the Barque Mobile docks, a few curious women step cautiously aboard. Inside the boat, nurses work in two small clinics, giving counselling and contraception to the women. From tidy cabinets and desks, they hand out stocks of condoms and explain samples of birth-control pills, IUDs, implants and injections to those who are willing to give them a try.

At other stops on the boat’s route, the campaigners organize boisterous meetings with music and speeches. “Who knows what contraception is?” a nurse asks a crowd of about 100 women (and a few men) in the stilt village of Ganvie.

“Me, me,” a few women shout.

“If you have a lot of children, you’ll have a shorter life, and you won’t be able to take care of your children,” one of the campaigners tells the crowd.

They hold up a poster with pictures of the various contraception methods. They explain the benefits of “spacing” a couple’s children, with several years between births. They bring out a male musician to demonstrate the use of a condom on a carved wooden phallus, with much commotion and laughing from the audience, and they correct him on his errors.

“When your husband comes home and wants to get together with you, you tell him, ‘Hey boy, that’s not the way you do it, here’s the way you do it,’” a nurse tells the women.

Then the campaigners answer questions about the contraception methods, dispelling some of the common myths. No, they tell the men, an IUD won’t cause any injury to you during sex. No, they tell the women, taking the pill won’t make it more difficult to have children later.

Among the crowd in Ganvie is a woman named Albertine Hoyeton. She is clutching her three-year-old son, her youngest child. Until she heard the loudspeaker from the approaching boat that day, she knew nothing about modern contraception. With her fisherman husband, she had five children in seven years – at great cost to her health.

“I was strong, but then I had several children,” she says. “And now I’m weak and I’m often sick and I can’t do many things. I don’t sleep much, because I always have worries on my mind.”

She often sees teenage mothers in her village. “I feel sorry for them, because their lives are miserable.”

She wants her children’s lives to be different. She wants them to use contraception, and she hopes that at least one of them will grow up to be a doctor.

At another stop, Simplicia Zannou climbs aboard the boat with her husband and infant son. She is about 20 years old. (Like many people in Benin, she’s not sure of her exact age.) She and her husband already have three children, and they want to learn about contraception. They listen quietly as the nurse explains the various methods. They decide that they prefer the pill. Then, as a routine check, the nurse asks if she can do a pregnancy test before prescribing the pills.

A few minutes later, the test strip reveals that Ms. Zannou is pregnant. She stares at the floor in shock, mopping her brow, while her husband laughs and plays with their baby.

“Another child,” she murmurs to her husband. “We should have been finished with this. I told you before that we should have gone for family planning.”

Her husband, a tailor named Bourasma Kokossou, has been dominating the conversation in the nurse’s office, even when the questions are directed to his wife. “She’ll just say exactly what I say,” he explains. “My wife obeys me. Without my approval, she can’t do anything. She can’t even move.”

But later, in a back room of their village home, Ms. Zannou agrees to talk without her husband’s presence. Their small two-room hut, filled with fabric and sewing machines, is built on stilts over the swampy water. Its floor is of rough wooden slats, and its walls are papered with tattered newspapers, old calendars and magazine pages.

Ms. Zannou is worried that her family cannot afford another child. She’s afraid that her children’s health could be affected by the burden of another newborn child. Her family is already sometimes forced to cut back to just one meal a day when the tailoring business is slow.

“How are we going to cope with this situation?” she asked her husband when they returned from the boat after the news of her pregnancy.

“Don’t worry about the money, we’ll get more customers,” he told her.

And then they stopped talking about it. “In our community, the wife always does what the husband tells her to do,” Ms. Zannou says. “The church tells us to obey our husbands.”

While wives are taught to await their husband’s authorization for family planning, husbands are allowed to have multiple wives. Only the first wife is legally registered, but their right to “marry” other women is widely condoned. In Benin, there are popular songs on local radio stations that jauntily tout the benefits of polygamy.

With these patriarchal attitudes firmly entrenched, Benin is one of the 14 African countries that have been the slowest to adopt modern contraception methods. Its government wants to persuade 20 per cent of women to begin using contraception by 2020, compared to the current rate of 12 per cent, but the goal is unlikely to be met.

Childbearing begins much too early in life for many African women. In some African countries, half of all girls are married before the age of 18. In Benin, girls are sometimes promised to men as future wives from the moment they are born, often to settle a family debt. The result is a huge number of teen pregnancies. Worldwide, about 18 million adolescent girls give birth every year in developing countries.

“You see grandmothers and their daughters with babies at the same time,” says Koudaogo Ouedraogo, the UNFPA representative in Benin. “We can’t continue with business as usual.”

It’s almost impossible to make significant improvement in education and economic development if the contraception rate is below 20 per cent, UN specialists say.

Even the spacing of children – allowing more than two years between births – can have a dramatic effect in reducing the death rate among children and mothers, while improving health and education levels. Bill and Melinda Gates, the billionaire philanthropists, argue that contraception is “one of the greatest life-saving and anti-poverty innovations in history.”

In the impoverished villages of So-Ava, progress is so slow that a typical year would see only 60 or 70 women adopting contraception for the first time. But the campaigners found that they could triple this rate by using the boat to spread the message. Now they plan to add three more boats to the circuit.

“The boat has come here like a saviour,” says André Todje, the deputy mayor of So-Ava. “Otherwise women would have no encouragement to reduce their family size. According to our tradition, women have no right to decide on children.”

Mr. Todje sometimes goes to the village’s churches on Sundays to spread the message about the risks of large families. But he admits that he’s not allowed to mention contraception. “It’s difficult,” he sighs. “It’s hard to get the message across in a church.”

The obstacles

In a country where illiteracy is common, the contraception boat has sparked wild rumours and suspicions. Some villagers claim that it must be a brothel. When doctors deny it, they are accused of taking bribes.

Other villagers are convinced that the boat’s family-planning ideas are a “Mami Wata” practice – a reference to a mermaid-like water spirit in traditional religions, which local churches often portray as evil. They are afraid that the spirit will cause their death if they enter the boat.

“We tell them that it’s nothing to do with Mami Wata,” says a nurse, Laetitia Gnansounou, who works for OSV Jordan, a local health group that runs the Barque Mobile with the UN’s help. “There’s a widespread idea that if they use contraception, they could die. In church, they’re told that their mission from God is to multiply – to produce a lot of children.”

To counteract the religious edicts, the family planning advocates tell the villagers that they should have only as many children as they can afford. But even in a desperately poor village, the villagers often reject this argument.

“They think children are their wealth,” says Benin’s health minister, Alassane Seidou. “It’s a paradox. They think, ‘If we don’t have money, we should at least have children.’”

The problems in Benin are just a microcosm of a global crisis. The UN has estimated that 220 million married women worldwide are unable to get access to contraception, even though they want to avoid pregnancy. It’s a shocking and worrisome number.

In some parts of the world, there has been strong progress in expanding access to contraception. One initiative, Family Planning 2020, estimates that 30 million women across the world have begun using contraception since the current campaign began in 2012. Yet this is still 19 million fewer women than the campaigners had hoped to reach by now, and they admit that their goal is unlikely to be achieved by the target date.

Even before the effect of the Trump cuts are fully felt, the UNFPA is lagging behind in its goal of raising $1.2-billion (U.S.) for contraception and other reproductive health supplies for the developing world over the next four years. Less than half of the target amount has been raised so far.

Until recently, Canada’s contribution has been small. When the former Conservative government launched the high-profile $2.85-billion (Canadian) Muskoka Initiative for maternal and child health in the developing world in 2010, only about 1.2 per cent of the money was allocated to family planning, according to estimates by an advocacy group, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights. Federal spending on family planning after 2010 was actually lower than in previous years, it says.

The Conservative government, apparently for ideological reasons, halted Canada’s contributions to the UN fund for contraceptive supplies after 2010, although some money was indirectly allocated for family planning through its support to UNFPA. (Canada gave about $70-million to UNFPA in 2015, but most was for programs supporting midwives and opposing child marriage.)

Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the UNFPA, told journalists last year that the Conservative maternal-health policy had treated women in the developing world “as bodies that deliver babies.”

A recent federal review of the Muskoka Initiative has confirmed that family planning was “underrepresented” in the Canadian program. The shortage of family planning services is responsible for about 29 per cent of maternal deaths worldwide, the review said, citing published estimates.

The Conservatives also refused to include any mention of abortion in the health initiative. Abortion is illegal or heavily restricted in most of Africa, including Benin. This obliges women to have unwanted children, or forces them into the hands of unsafe abortion providers. The World Health Organization estimates that six million unsafe abortions are performed in Africa every year, resulting in 29,000 deaths and countless injuries.

Despite the Canadian refusal to include any discussion of abortion policy in the early years of the Muskoka Initiative, some African leaders are surprisingly willing to talk about decriminalizing abortion. “With time, our society will evolve towards it,” says Mr. Seidou, the Benin health minister. “Unsafe illegal abortions are injuring many women. It’s forbidden, but it happens anyway, so why not enable women to do it in safer conditions?”

Yet the irony is that the number of unsafe abortions is expected to increase sharply as a direct result of Mr. Trump’s cuts to family planning programs.

In the past, whenever a Republican administration has cut the U.S. aid budget for family planning, studies have found a rise in the abortion rate. In one study, the abortion rate increased by 40 per cent in 20 African countries as a result of the U.S. policy. With less access to contraception, women often feel that abortion is their only choice – yet abortion is usually illegal, so they turn to dangerous clandestine providers, which results in thousands of injuries and deaths every year.

Under the $650-million three-year strategy that Mr. Trudeau has announced, the Canadian government will support a range of reproductive and sexual health rights in developing countries, including contraception and legal abortion. It will also provide funds to advocacy groups that challenge the anti-abortion laws in the estimated 125 countries where abortion is illegal or severely restricted.

Sandeep Prasad, executive director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, says the new strategy is a step in the right direction. But it amounts to less than $220-million annually, and he argues that Canada needs to spend much more on family planning in the developing world.

His group has proposed that Canada help to replace the U.S. cuts by spending a total of $450-million annually on contraception and other sexual and reproductive health programs in the developing world. This could prevent more than four million unintended pregnancies and a million unsafe abortions annually, it says.

What the future holds

For many women in Africa, contraception is a late discovery, after a lifetime of children. Christiane Djengue, the woman who gave birth to 10 children in 19 years in a fishing village in southern Benin, suffered complications in most of her births. She remembers how she began thinking of getting an abortion after the seventh pregnancy, but a hospital nurse told her it was impossible. “This hospital will never do it,” the nurse told her.

Only after her 10 th birth – when she almost died, trekking from hospital to hospital, bleeding, as she searched for a place that would give her a C-section operation – did she finally visit the Barque Mobile and get a birth-control injection. Nobody had told her about modern contraception before.

Today, her life is still difficult. “I can’t relax, except when the children are sleeping, because one of my kids could fall into the water and drown,” she says.

But she seems cheerful as she sits on a pile of fishing nets in her stilt house, breastfeeding her youngest baby, then playing with him and patting him affectionately. “It’s because of this baby, my 10 th, that I finally went to family planning,” she says, laughing.

There is hope, too, from a younger generation of urban women, who are increasingly aware of contraception. Larissa Koukoui, a 22-year-old university student in Benin’s biggest city, Cotonou, says she wants to be married by 26 and then have three children at the most. On a recent day in Cotonou, she was visiting a clinic to ask about changing her contraception method.

Like most of her university friends, she has been using condoms, because of rumours that birth-control pills could make it difficult for her to have children later. But now she is thinking about switching to the pill, if the clinic doctor will dispel the false rumours.

“This is Africa, and most of our mothers don’t use these methods,” Ms. Koukoui says. “Our mothers tell us, ‘We didn’t use it, so you shouldn’t.’ But our generation is better informed.”

Beyond her own personal needs, she is convinced that Benin must limit its population growth. She sees people living in terrible conditions in Cotonou, in flimsy houses among piles of garbage. “I see people suffering in poverty and living in dangerous areas, and I tell myself that nobody should be living in those conditions,” she says.

“The more people there are, the less that nature can support us.”

Interested in an IUD? Here’s how to find a clinic near you!

We joined Canadian experts in IUC  who are committed to helping people access their contraception method of choice by creating the RAICE (Rapid Access IUC Centres of Excellence) project.

If you’re interested in an IUC (an IUD or IUS), click here to learn more and find a clinic near you!

Not sure what an IUC, IUD or IUS is? Here are some helpful definitions from the RAICE project:

IUC stands for intrauterine contraception. It describes any device placed in the uterus to help prevent pregnancy – i.e., an IUD or IUS.

IUD stands for intrauterine device. It describes a t-shaped device with copper and no hormones, that is placed in the uterus as a long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC).

IUS stands for intrauterine system. It describes a t-shaped plastic device that steadily releases small amounts of hormone in the uterus as a long-acting, reversible contraceptive (LARC).


Canada spending $650-million on reproductive rights, including fighting global anti-abortion laws

Source: Geoffrey York AND Michelle Zilio | Globe and Mail

In a sharp reorientation of Canada’s foreign-aid strategy, the Trudeau government plans to spend $650-million on sexual and reproductive health and rights worldwide – a move that could see Canada paying for a battle against anti-abortion laws in dozens of countries.

The three-year plan, announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday as he marked International Women’s Day, would finance a range of global programs, including contraception, reproductive health, legal abortion, sexuality education and advocacy work.

Abortion is illegal or severely restricted by law in an estimated 125 countries worldwide, mostly in Africa, Latin America, South Asia and the Middle East. But under the new plan, Canada could pay for advocacy groups to challenge those laws.

One of the activities that Canada will finance, according to a background document, is “removing judicial and legal barriers to the fulfilment of sexual and reproductive health and rights.”

A federal official confirmed that these barriers include the anti-abortion laws in many countries.

“Advocacy is included in our initiative, so yes, we will support local groups and international groups who advocate for women’s rights, including abortion,” International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau told The Globe and Mail in an interview on Wednesday.

The campaign could be an uphill battle. In regions such as Africa, most governments are socially conservative and heavily influenced by Christian and Muslim groups that are strongly anti-abortion. Abortion is fully legal in only a small handful of countries, such as South Africa.

While helping to fight anti-abortion laws, the new federal strategy would also try to reduce the estimated 22 million unsafe abortions annually – a leading cause of death among women in the developing world, who often turn to dangerous backstreet providers because they have no access to legal abortion.

The new federal strategy would aim to “reduce the number of unsafe abortions, through education, contraception, family planning,” Ms. Bibeau said. “All of this strategy is to empower women and protect them. They put their lives at risk when they go to clandestine abortions.”

At a news conference, Mr. Trudeau was asked about the countries where abortion is illegal. He voiced his concern about the risk of death. “For far too many women and girls, unsafe abortions and lack of choices in reproductive health mean that they either are at risk and at risk of death, or else simply cannot contribute and cannot achieve their potential,” he told reporters.

The Liberal government’s plan to finance contraception and abortion programs internationally is in sharp contrast to the policy of the previous Conservative government. While the Conservatives created a multibillion-dollar foreign-aid program for maternal and child health, less than 2 per cent of its budget was allocated for contraception services and it refused to pay for any abortion-related services.

Some rights activists praised the new federal strategy. “Investing in sexual and reproductive health and rights is an investment in human rights that has the potential to prevent tens of thousands of deaths each year and millions of unwanted pregnancies,” said a statement by Sandeep Prasad, executive director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights.

Oxfam Canada welcomed the federal announcement, saying it comes “at a critical moment” when the world is seeing “the clawing back of hard-won women’s rights in many countries.”

A spokesman for Ms. Bibeau said the $650-million will be financed from “unallocated funds” in the government’s existing budget for foreign aid. He said it won’t reduce the $3.5-billion allocated for maternal and child health by the previous Conservative government, which has three years remaining in its five-year budget.

Stephen Brown, a professor at the University of Ottawa who studies foreign aid, said the decision to reallocate the $650-million from the existing aid budget is a “lost opportunity.” While the government loves to claim that it is showing global leadership, the annual amount is too small to provide real leadership, he said.

Another Canadian aid expert, Ian Smillie, said the aid budget is already at an all-time low, and the new money ultimately has to come from existing allocations, “so it really is just moving the deck chairs around.”

The NDP foreign affairs critic, Hélène Laverdière, said her party is pleased by the new strategy, but the amount of money is too small. She noted that the government is spending only 0.26 per cent of Canada’s national income on foreign aid, while the United Nations target is 0.7 per cent.

The Conservative social development critic, Karen Vecchio, said the government should focus on “concerns here at home,” including those of Indigenous women.

Asked about the legality of abortion, she said it is “up to the countries.”

SRH2017: That’s a wrap!

Last week was Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Week with the theme Ready for some pillow talk? Did you miss it? There are still ways you can get involved.

Click here to learn more!

Joint Statement on Trump’s Global Gag Rule Re-Enactment

We, the undersigned organizations, strongly condemn President Trump’s signing of the Global Gag Rule on January 23rd 2017, one of his first acts as President of the United States. During the Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush administrations, the Global Gag Rule prohibited foreign NGOs receiving U.S. assistance related to family planning and reproductive health from using non-U.S. funding to provide abortion services, information, counseling or referrals and from engaging in advocacy for access to safe abortion services. This policy causes real and serious harm to women around the world and is a violation of international development agreements signed by the United States. The policy leads to shortages in resources, the closure of health facilities offering services for women, a chill-effect on all related care (including the provision of family planning, contraceptive counselling, etc.) and the denial of lawful safe abortion services.

President Trump’s version of the Global Gag Rule is more extreme than past administrations and will extend to all global health assistance provided across US departments. The political and financial impacts will be significant and far-reaching. According to PAI, a global reproductive health organization, in monetary terms, this expanded policy will apply to as much as $9.458 billion in global health funding, which includes programming for maternal health, family planning, HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and more.

As the largest donor in the area of sexual and reproductive health, the United States has played a critical role in supporting countries to fulfill women’s rights through improved access to modern methods of contraception, strengthening of health systems, provision of essential health services to survivors of gender-based violence, among other areas. These are priority areas identified by partner countries as critical to their own development goals and their obligations under international human rights law.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, unanimously adopted by 193 countries, specifically targets universal access to sexual and reproductive health as critical to the reduction of poverty and the fulfillment of human rights. With the stroke of a pen, the United States has put this agenda in jeopardy and women around the world will suffer the indignities and often fatal consequences of this action.

Canada, and its allies, both governments and civil society organizations, must step up their efforts to safeguard and advance sexual and reproductive health and rights by increasing development financing in these areas in a comprehensive manner and by championing these issues within diplomatic efforts.

This U.S. policy position represents a gross violation of women’s rights and runs counter to the global trend of liberalizing abortion laws worldwide, which has led to significant decreases in unsafe abortions.

Canada cannot be complicit in the rolling-back of the hard-fought gains made over 20 years ago on women’s rights, specifically their sexual and reproductive rights. Together, we call on Canada and all sexual and reproductive rights allies to denounce the enactment of this expanded Global Gag Rule and to make concerted efforts to increase support for safe abortion care as part of a comprehensive package of sexual and reproductive health services, and to champion advocacy related to safeguarding and advancing sexual and reproductive rights locally, nationally and globally.



  • Abortion Access Now PEI
  • Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC)
  • Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights
  • AIDOS – Italian Association for Women in Development
  • AidWatch Canada
  • Akahata
  • Amnesty International
  • Asia Pacific Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (APA)
  • Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women (ARROW)
  • Association québécoise des organismes de coopération internationale
  • ASTRA Network
  • ASTRA Youth and Federation for Women and Family Planning
  • Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic
  • BC Women’s Abortion Clinic (CARE Program)
  • Canadian Association of Midwives
  • Canadian Council for International Co-Operation
  • Canadian Federation of University Women
  • Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
  • Canadian Society for International Health
  • Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW- STTP)
  • CARE Canada
  • CECI – Centre for International Studies and Cooperation
  • Clinique des femmes de l’Outaouais
  • Comité québécois femmes et développement
  • Compass Centre for Sexual Wellness
  • Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women
  • CUPE 1979
  • dance4life
  • Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung (DSW)
  • Everywoman’s Health Centre, Vancouver
  • Federación de Planificación Familiar Estatal
  • Fédération du Québec pour le planning des naissances
  • Federation of Medical Women of Canada
  • FOKUS – Forum for Women and Development
  • Foundation for Leadership Initiatives (FLI)
  • Global Doctors for Choice
  • Grandmothers Advocacy Network (GRAN)
  • Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics of Manitoba
  • Interagency Coalition on AIDS and Development (ICAD)
  • Inter Pares
  • International Planned Parenthood Federation – Western Hemisphere Region
  • Institute for International Women’s Rights – Manitoba
  • Ipas
  • Island Sexual Health Society
  • Kenoli Foundation
  • Nobel Women’s Initiative
  • MATCH International Women’s Fund
  • McLeod Group
  • Margaret Pyke Trust, with the Population & Sustainability Network
  • Options for Sexual Health
  • Oxfam Canada
  • Oxfam-Québec
  • PEI Abortion Rights Network
  • Planned Parenthood Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Health Centre
  • Planned Parenthood Ottawa
  • Planned Parenthood Regina
  • Planned Parenthood Toronto
  • Reproductive Justice New Brunswick
  • RESULTS Canada
  • Rotary Women’s Association of Vancouver
  • Rutgers
  • Sexual and Reproductive Justice Coalition
  • Sexual Health Centre Saskatoon
  • Sexual Health Nova Scotia and its member-centres
  • Sexuality Education Resource Centre Manitoba
  • Sexuality Policy Watch (Brazil)
  • Shanti Uganda Society
  • SHORE Centre
  • Simavi
  • Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC)
  • Southern African AIDS Trust (SAT)
  • Table de concertation des groupes de femmes de la Gaspésie et des Îles-de-la-Madeleine
  • Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR)
  • WISH Associates
  • WUSC – World University Service of Canada
  • Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights

Individual endorsers:


  • Anubha Singh, CREA, India
  • Chris Kaposy, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Bioethics, Faculty of Medicine, Memorial University of Newfoundland
  • Ton Coenen, Executive Director, Rutgers, Netherlands
  • Nienke Blauw, Sustainablue Consulting, Netherlands
  • Tracy Glynn
  • Lynne Pajot
  • John Bart
  • Dr Ellen Wiebe
  • Laura Lee, MSc PhD (Global Child Health), Laura M. Lee Consulting, Associate, International Institute for Child Rights and Development
  • Sonja Janousek, Sustainable Development Consultant
  • Darlene Juschka
  • Kelly Monaghan
  • Deborah Bourque
  • Val Embree
  • Diane Wood
  • Jen Wrye
  • Milton Kiang, B.A., LL.B.
  • Marion Pollack, Vancouver BC –retired trade unionist
  • Judy Burwell
  • Laura Mikuska
  • April Kilfoyle
  • Carolyn Patrick
  • Rosalind Petchesky, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Political Science Hunter College & the Graduate Center, City University of New York
  • Lauren Perruzza
  • Erin Frotten
  • Cindy McCallum Miller, President, CUPW Castlegar Local
  • Donna Campbell
  • Eva Sharell
  • Valerie Swinton
  • Susan Carter
  • Patrick Powers
  • Rick Dondo
  • Patricia LaRue
  • Cindy McCallum Miller
  • Diane Breton
  • Marjorie Kort
  • B Gail Plecash