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800 Women And Girls Still Die From Maternal Causes Every Day

There is overwhelming evidence that family planning saves lives.

05/07/2017 5:46 AM AEST | Updated 05/07/2017 10:37 AM AEST
Marie Stopes
For Wari, 32, future pregnancies are a matter of life or death and she worries about the high risk of complications if she falls pregnant again.

Wari is 32 and lives in the Papua New Guinean highlands. She has had seven children in seven years. For Wari, future pregnancies are a matter of life or death and she worries about the high risk of complications if she falls pregnant again.

"I've been giving birth up until now. And now I just don't want to give birth or have any more children," Wari says.

These complications are easily avoidable, yet Wari doesn't have that choice.

It's almost unfathomable that more than 225 million women and girls in the developing world can't access contraception or family planning services. That's 225 million women and girls who want to -- but can't -- make decisions about when they have children and how many children they have.

There is overwhelming evidence that family planning saves lives.

On the eve of the Family Planning Summit in 2012, the then-Australia Government pledged to double funding for family planning in the aid budget to $53 million a year. Fast forward to 2017 and Australia has not only dismally failed to meet its 2012 commitment, but funding for family planning in the aid budget has vanished.

It's quite a simple concept: when women and girls can access quality sexual and reproductive health services, they are less likely to suffer complications or die during pregnancy and child birth. Even though the number of women around the world who die during pregnancy has dropped by 44 percent in the last 25 years, 800 women and girls still die from maternal causes every day.

Almost all of these deaths occur in developing countries, particularly in rural communities, where women and girls have limited access to health services, contraception and family planning advice.

Family planning is the key to achieving gender equality. It can unlock the potential of women and girls to be educated, economically empowered and to become leaders in their communities. When women and girls have a choice about when they have children, their monthly wages increase up to 40 percent, helping to lift them and their families out of poverty.

On July 11 world leaders, the United Nations, civil society and major donors including Bill and Melinda Gates, are gathering for a landmark event, the Family Planning Summit.

Back in 2012, world leaders met at a similar summit, to form a global partnership called Family Planning 2020, in an effort to place women's access to sexual and reproductive health and rights at the top of the global agenda.

This year's summit marks the half way point to 2020 and will measure countries' progress towards meeting its family planning commitments made in 2012. Clearly there have been huge setbacks over the past 12 months. The single biggest blow to family planning has been the Trump Administration's Mexico City Policy.

The much maligned policy restricts all global health funding provided by the USA, which has huge ramifications for millions of women and girls in the developing world and the services they rely on, including family planning, HIV and maternal and child health services.

Australia, too, has begun to scale back its commitments to family planning. In fact, funding for family planning and sexual reproductive health services in the aid budget has been slashed in half since the first family planning meeting five years ago.

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On the eve of the Family Planning Summit in 2012, the then-Australia Government pledged to double funding for family planning in the aid budget to $53 million a year. Fast forward to 2017 and Australia has not only dismally failed to meet its 2012 commitment, but funding for family planning in the aid budget has vanished.

In just three years, funding that could save the lives of millions of women and girls in developing countries has fallen from $46 million to just $23 million.

But it's not too late to turn the situation around for girls and women like Wari. In fact, the Australian Government has a golden opportunity to show leadership and fill some of the void left by the Trump Administration.

It has an opportunity to be a global champion for women and girls by making a pledge at the Summit on July 11 to reinstate the funding slashed from family planning. This would mean an increase of $10 million a year for the next three years to counteract the appalling situation coming out of America.

Plan International Australia and a consortium of organisations working for girls' rights are calling on the Government to make this commitment ahead of the Summit.

Our Foreign Minister Julie Bishop speaks often about the importance of achieving gender equality for women and girls to make the world a safer, fairer, more prosperous place for all. We want to see those words turn into actions. Australia can make the world a better place by empowering women and girls – and the best way to do that is to fund family planning.

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