CREDIT: AFP/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA
The prime minister has announced a new initiative aimed at helping the poorest and most marginalised women around the world gain access to contraception.
Some 214 million women globally want to be able to control when and how many children they have but are unable to because contraceptives are out of their reach, according to the World Health Organization.
Empowering women to control the number of children they have enables them to work and stay longer in education, helping their families and communities to lift themselves out of poverty.
The announcement of the £200m programme was made during Theresa May’s visit to Kenya, the first official visit by a UK prime minister since Margaret Thatcher toured the east African country in 1988.
The programme, which will target women and girls in rural and poor communities who have traditionally been hardest to reach, will provide mobile clinics and contraceptive materials such as pills, condoms and implants.
Marie Stopes International, one of the the charities delivering the programme, estimates that it will help avert 2.6 million unintended pregnancies, 1.7 million unsafe abortions and and 16,420 maternal deaths.
The UK will also boost family planning services in Kenya, where 18 per cent of women are either pregnant or have had their first child by the age of 19. The WISH programme will focus on increasing access in 19 counties where less than 45 per cent of women use any form of contraception.
The UK government has also announced it will support 5000 girls to get back into school through its Leave No Girl Behind programme in Kenya. The programme will help girls who cannot afford to pay for school and those with disabilities.
Harriet Baldwin, minister for Africa, said: “It’s a tragedy that so many young girls are needlessly robbed of their education and career aspiration. We will only lift people out of poverty by ensuring that every child can access quality education, healthcare, and employment regardless of circumstance or gender.”
Simon Cooke, chief executive of Marie Stopes International, said the programme will enable many women to access contraception for the first time in their lives.
“Expanding access to family planning services is one of the smartest investments countries can make for their future. Giving women and girls the ability to choose the size of their family creates healthier and more prosperous populations, allows women to contribute more fully to their communities, and supports stability and security,” he said.
Beth Schlachter, executive director of FP2020, a global partnership of organisations on family planning, said that there were many reasons why women in developing countries could not get hold of contraception.
“At the federal level most countries are supportive of contraception and family planning. Barriers often exist at the lower level, within the community or family. Condoms or pills may not work for women because they have to keep coming back to the clinic. An implant or intra-uterine device might be better because they have to walk 50 kilometres to get to the clinic,” she said.
She welcomed the UK government’s new funding.
She added: “There’s a direct link between having fewer children and women’s economic empowerment. When women don’t have access to contraception and have six or more children in rapid succession there’s higher maternal mortality. This is linked to lifetime of poverty as one parent is not going to be able to sustain that.”
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