Contraception is the Foundation to Women’s Empowerment
The ability for a woman to decide if and when she wants to have children changes everything. It gives her greater control over when and whom she will marry, and the ability to invest in herself – to pursue her education and professional opportunities. In short, having access to effective contraception that meets our needs is the foundation to empowering women.
As an added bonus, when a woman decides that she is ready to have a child and plans her pregnancy instead of having one that is unintended, she is able to take better care of her children and give them much greater opportunities.
The fact that women should have access to contraception seems like a no-brainer. And yet, there are several issues that make it difficult:
1. Lack of access to a full range of contraceptive options.
Studies show that when women have access to a full range of contraceptive options, they are more likely to find one that they will use correctly and consistently over time. But access is challenging. Unreliable availability, cost, laws, and policies can make it difficult for a woman to access or even know about the birth control method that will work best for her. Additionally, provider bias often limits available choices. A provider may only focus on one or two methods or may assume that certain methods aren’t appropriate for certain women. When the contraceptive choices available to women are limited, they are much less likely to find an option that will work for them.
Many governments (hello U.S.A) are unwilling to invest fully in providing women with free or low cost contraception. When this happens, the cost for purchasing contraception falls onto donors who have limited budgets or onto the end user. If the end user is the one paying, it is almost always the woman and not her male partner who bears the burden.
3. Actual and perceived side effects.
In numerous health surveys, “side effects and health concerns” is consistently the top reason cited by women for not using contraception. Providing women with more hormonal options and different ways of getting these hormonal options into their bodies isn’t going to address this critical issue. Simply put, we should be listening to women when they tell us that they want birth control without side effects.
Embarrassment and shame around using contraception is widespread. Even in liberal modern societies women are often embarrassed to purchase condoms or admit that they are taking contraception to prevent pregnancy. In many places in the world, a woman can’t even visit a doctor without a male by her side. And some providers actually refuse to give an “unmarried” woman contraception. The challenges around stigma and embarrassment are real.
What can we do?
Health providers and programs must commit to offering women a full range of contraceptive options. This means offering women IUD’s, injectables, condoms, and fertility awareness methods. Ideally it would include male-oriented birth control such as vasectomies too. Offering a full range of contraceptive options isn’t always easy. Each method requires a different type of education and a real understanding of a woman’s needs.
We must do more to develop innovative contraceptive options that address women’s needs. Women have been telling us that they want effective, side-effect free contraceptive options. It’s time for the health community to listen rather than trying to counsel away their concerns. Our company, Cycle Technologies, is committed to developing contraceptive options that are based on women’s needs.
We’ve specifically focused on effective, easy-to- use fertility awareness options because they address women’s widespread concerns about side effects. They also address many of the other reasons that women cite for not using contraception – misjudging fertility risk, access, and cost. What’s more, contraceptive apps like CycleBeads and Dot, can be offered directly to women through their mobile devices.
And finally, we must reduce the stigma around contraception. In some cases this means changing the dialog. In others it’s about branding and making it cool to be “protected”. It also requires that we make contraception readily available and consider the need for discretion in our products, packaging, and delivery mechanisms. Providing women with contraceptive solutions that they can access right through a mobile device is one way we’re addressing this need.
*image by Noah Hinton
Like this article? Thank Leslie.
Leslie Heyer is the founder of Cycle Technologies. A consumer product and technology company working to address unmet contraceptive needs of women globally.