17 Reasons Why Reproductive Rights are Key to Sustainable Development
In 2015, 193 Member States of the United Nations agreed to a remarkable consensus of 17 shared goals to drive global progress for a more equal world and a healthier planet. Two of these goals are dedicated to good health and wealth-being and to achieving gender equality, both of which include an explicit focus on sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.
But in truth, sexual and reproductive health and rights are critical to progress on all 17 of the goals, from ending extreme poverty and hunger to climate action. Indeed, every dollar invested in family planning and reproductive health services can save up to $31 on spending for education, food, health, housing, and sanitation. Women who can plan if and when they become mothers are more likely to have healthy, well-educated children, leading to more resilient, prosperous families; thriving societies; and growing economies.
As world leaders gather in New York this week for the annual UN General Assembly, explore how sexual and reproductive health and rights underlie all of the Sustainable Development Goals:
1: No Poverty: Girls and women who can plan for and space their children are better able to pursue their education and become economically empowered, lifting themselves and their families out of poverty. As Melinda Gates said: “No country in the last 50 years has emerged from poverty without expanding access to contraceptives.”
2: Zero Hunger: Almost half of all pregnancies worldwide are unplanned. With family planning, women can choose to have only the number of children they want and can support, enabling them to better provide food for themselves and their families, and breaking the cycle of chronic malnutrition.
Read more: Impacts of Family Planning on Nutrition
3: Good Health & Well-Being: Access to family planning and quality reproductive health care sparks a myriad of health outcomes for individuals — reducing unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and maternal and child death. In fact, if we met the needs of the more than 200 million women who want to avoid pregnancy but are not using an effective form of contraception, we would reduce maternal deaths by 73 percent and newborn deaths by 80 percent. It also benefits health for the world — reducing the impact of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.
4: Quality Education: Girls who can avoid unintended pregnancy can stay in school to learn and gain the skills they need to be healthy, productive, and empowered adults. Each additional year of education improves a girl’s employment prospects, increasing her future income potential by 10 to20 percent.
5: Gender Equality: Health, rights, and equality are tightly interwoven: Women and girls with full access to sexual and reproductive health and rights can more equally contribute economically, socially, and politically to their communities, helping create a more equitable world.
Read more: Vision 2020 Gender Report
6: Clean Water & Sanitation: Access to clean water and adequate facilities helps girls manage their menstruation and stay in school, and is essential for the safety of expecting women and newborns, helping reduce maternal and newborn illness and death.
7: Affordable & Clean Energy: Electricity is a critical piece of health service delivery, including reproductive health services like safe childbirth. Tens of thousands of health centers across low- and middle-income countries lack electricity, contributing to preventable maternal deaths due to poor lighting or lack of other electricity-dependent services.
Read more: Powering Health Care
8: Decent Work & Economic Growth: If women participated in the economy at the same level as men, $28 trillion — or 26 percent — could be added to the global annual GDP by 2025. That’s the annual GDP of the U.S. and China combined. But to realize this full participation, women need to be healthy and empowered — and that starts with the basic right and ability to plan a family and protect sexual and reproductive health.
Read more: The Power of Parity
9: Industry, Innovation, & Infrastructure: Women are entering the formal workforce at unprecedented rates, especially in manufacturing sectors like textiles, clothing, and footwear. Ensuring this significant portion of the global workforce is healthy, well, and empowered — and their rights are fulfilled — increases productivity and helps drive thriving industries.
10: Reduced Inequalities: Inequality in sexual and reproductive health and rights underlie all other forms of inequality. A woman or girl whose health and rights are not fulfilled is more likely to face inequalities in education, economic stability, and health outcomes; and, a woman or girl in poverty is likely to have less access to reproductive health information and services that can help her break the pattern.
11: Sustainable Cities & Communities: A key component of a sustainable community is its resilience when disaster strikes. Girls and women around the world are disproportionately impacted by crisis and natural disaster, and in the midst of instability, their sexual and reproductive health and rights are often deprioritized. But women are also key agents of change: when healthy and empowered, they are critical to the fabric of recovery for their families, communities, and countries.
12: Responsible Consumption & Production: Healthy, empowered women can better manage natural resources such as firewood, water, and homegrown food for their families.
13–15: Climate Action; Life Below Water; Life on Land: Female empowerment is one of the most effective ways to combat climate change. Voluntary family planning combined with girls’ education — two powerful interventions on their own, but which, when taken together, put women in control of their families and futures — can reduce greenhouses gases more than on- and offshore wind combined.
16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions: When healthy, empowered women have a voice at the table in decisions about war and peace, peace agreements are 20 percent more likely to last at least two years and 35 percent more likely to last 15 years.
17: Partnerships for the Goals: No one country or organization can achieve the Sustainable Development Goals alone; global partners, including the U.S., are key in making progress. The U.S. has historically been a leader on global sexual and reproductive health and rights, providing almost 50 percent of all global assistance for reproductive health and family planning. But policy and funding changes under the current U.S. Administration — including expanding the Global Gag Rule, defunding UNFPA and proposing significant cuts to bilateral funding — threaten or eliminate U.S. support for international reproductive health and family planning programs, putting the health and rights of the world’s most marginalized girls and women on the line and jeopardizing progress on all of our global goals.