Two Simple Words: I Decide
I have dedicated my life to ensuring that all women—young and old, poor and wealthy, married and unmarried—would be able to say that those two words and have them ring true.
It seems simple enough. When women have the power to decide if and when to have children, their families become healthier, stronger and more economically solvent. Yet even today, in 2014, the right to decide the size of one's family remains out of reach for far too many: worldwide, At least 200 million women want to avoid pregnancy yet lack access to modern contraception.
What would it take to shrink this number to zero? A mere $8.1 billion—or about one percent of what Americans spent during the 2013 holidays. But the world spends less than half that. And the root of the problem lies not only in funding, but rather, in the fact that women have not achieved real equality with men.
Last month, I had the pleasure of traveling to Bolivia, one of Latin America's poorest countries, to meet with our local Member Association CIES. In addition to the breathtaking vistas of the world's highest capital city La Paz, we traveled through mud and across rivers to reach small, largely indigenous communities nestled in majestic—and sometimes nearly impassable—hills of Central Bolivia.
"Many of the women you will meet have never had a menstrual period," said CIES Executive Director Jhonny Lopez as we set out on our journey. He explained that many women living in these rural communities had given birth to as many as twelve children. A lack of access to birth control and health education was not the only problem. Many women remained pregnant at the insistence of their husbands. For many of the men in these small communities, who rely on migrant labor for their sparse incomes, pregnancy means guaranteed fidelity during the times they are away from their families.