xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

What does access to contraception mean to you?

When my great-grandmother Genevieve was a little girl, her mother died. Her father, a recent immigrant, did his best to care for her, but he was working so much that he had little time to spend with her. No one taught her about her body or other things girls should know — so when she started menstruating as a young teen, she had no idea what was happening. She nervously hid the evidence under her mattress until she could burn it.

Genevieve left school after seventh grade to work and take care of her family. By 17, she was pregnant. On a December day in 1928, she gave birth to my grandma Dolly. Six months later, she was pregnant again. She spent years in an abusive marriage, struggling to care for her daughters while working long hours to make ends meet. Her husband drank and gambled most of her earnings away, compounding the hardships of raising a family during the Great Depression.

Advertisement

Trump is pushing a historic retrenchment in U.S. support for global health and family planning

It's hard to imagine someone so young facing such daunting struggles with so little support. But nearly a century later, all over the world, millions of girls and young women face the same challenges my great-grandmother did. How do I know this? Because it's my job, and my honor, to tell their stories.

Working in international family planning, my colleagues and I hear stories of life and death, of people overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges, of professionals and volunteers working passionately to improve the lives of women and their children. Two years ago, we launched the global storytelling initiative Family Planning Voices to shed light on the ways access to contraception changes lives.

Advertisement

Researchers found that abortion rates increased in some countries when the Mexico City policy was last in effect, probably because it disrupted family planning services.

As a founding team member and lead interviewer, I have the privilege of listening to good people from all walks of life who are bound by their passion for expanding access to contraception for people who want it. And I have the responsibility of sharing their stories with the world so that we can learn from each other. So that we will no longer have to say that girls today are facing the same struggles that girls like my great-grandmother faced 100 years ago. I feel it is not only my job to share their stories but my calling.

I have interviewed more than 150 people for Family Planning Voices, and I carry all of those stories with me.

Like the story of Daphne Gimugu, a young public health professional in Uganda, who described a girl crying tears of happiness after Daphne gave her a pack of reusable Afripads for menstrual hygiene management. The girl had lost both parents. Her grandmother, charged with caring for the girl and her siblings, could not afford pads, so she missed more than a week of school each month. In fact, Daphne told me, the challenge of menstrual hygiene management poses such an insurmountable barrier to school-age girls in some places that some have actually told her they hoped to get pregnant, simply to avoid having their periods for nine months so that they could attend school uninterrupted for a time.

Or the story of midwife Stembile Mugore who told me how, as a young teacher at a pre-service education school in Zimbabwe, she saw young student nurses drop out (or get kicked out) of school as a result of unplanned pregnancies. Though they were training to be health care providers, these women had no access to contraceptive information or services, and, for too many, unplanned pregnancy ended their careers before they began — a devastating missed opportunity for these women, their children and families, and a health care system that so desperately needed health workers.

Millions of dollars in funding recently cut by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will directly impact teen pregnancy prevention programs across the nation and in Baltimore.

And the story of Nakita Shavers, who talked about the mentoring program she started to address the gap in adolescent sexual and reproductive health education and services left by Hurricane Katrina. As low-income families struggled to rebuild, many girls were forced to grow up far too soon with little support. "Families have far more on their plates than worrying about teaching their child about sex," Nakita told me. "No one is telling them right from wrong. No one is telling them about hygiene and menstruation and just simple things that a girl should have the right to know." As a result, adolescent pregnancy is rampant, and the cycle of poverty is difficult to escape.

One thing I've learned from interviewing dozens of people for Family Planning Voices is that people will share anything if you just ask them. Today, on World Contraception Day, I ask you to share your own stories, thoughts, and resources. Tell us why contraception matters to you on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using #FPVoices, or submit a story and photo for publication to www.fpvoices.org/submit. Or visit www.fpvoices.org and browse our vast collection of stories from around the world. Share your favorite on social media using #FPVoices, and tell us why you love it. Every one of our lives is affected by whether or not we have access to quality contraceptive information and services. It's time we talk about it.

Elizabeth Futrell (elizabeth.futrell@jhu.edu) works for the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs as Content Development Lead for the USAID-supported Knowledge for Health (K4Health) Project. Family Planning Voices is led by K4Health and Family Planning 2020. Ms. Futrell was just named to 120 Under 40: The Next Generation of Family Planning Leaders.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement