How Choice Brings Opportunity

A friend’s daughter recently returned to graduate school now that her youngest child is a toddler, and she remarked that it was the first time in years she felt and had been viewed just as a person—not as a mom first.

It struck me at that moment how deeply personal the choice to become a parent is. My friend’s daughter cherishes her family and has no regrets about her decision. However, that right—to choose whatever path is right for you—has exponential effects when you take a step back to consider the implications.

Years ago, for example, while living in Mozambique, I met a 16-year-old girl named Assia* who had an unplanned pregnancy with a boy about her age. In her community, she was obligated to marry the boy, which also meant that she essentially became an indentured servant to her in-laws.

From that point on, this young woman was so tied up with taking care of the first child and the children who came after, gathering firewood, cooking, and doing other unpaid family work that her opportunity to continue in school, choose her own spouse, earn her own livelihood, or attend to her own needs or dreams was denied.

Just like Assia in Mozambique, women around the world are repeatedly deprived of the ability to be economic decision makers. They often become mothers not because they choose, but as a matter of circumstance. They love and are committed to their children, but they did not have the opportunity to fully consider their rights as an individual—to freely choose marriage, employment, or school.

Today, more than 225 million women and girls want but do not have access to modern contraception. A woman’s ability to decide if, when, and how many children to have is one of the most important factors for determining the course of her future and that of her family. When she has access to contraception, she tends to be healthier and have a healthier family, go further in school, and be more likely to invest money back into her community.

Additionally, if this unmet need were satisfied so that all women could plan or choose to delay pregnancy, nearly one-third of maternal deaths could be prevented annually. That’s about 80,000 lives that could be saved each year if women simply had access to one of the most affordable and effective ways to prevent maternal mortality.

Can you imagine what it would be like if each woman and girl had the opportunity to choose her future and fulfill her full potential? Access to family planning and reproductive health care remains one of the most effective investments in health and development, yet women like Assia continue to face the same challenges so many years later.

EngenderHealth, along with individuals and sister organizations around the world, is urging the global community to recognize April 11 as the International Day for Maternal Health and Rights. Please join us and learn more about what you can do to celebrate every woman’s right to dignity, respect, and the information and services she needs to make her own choices about motherhood and her future.

* Assia’s name has been changed to respect confidentiality