A Force of 120 Million
I met Sharmila Devi when the youngest of her four children, Babita, was 4 months old. After Babita was born, Sharmila made a brave decision that will give her children a good chance at a better future.
After talking to a community health worker, she decided to use an intrauterine contraceptive device to avoid getting pregnant again until she was ready – a bold step for a poor woman in northern India.
Sharmila’s husband and mother-in-law objected. They expected her to follow generations of tradition, to become pregnant numerous times in quick succession and then be sterilized.
Sharmila eventually convinced her husband to support her, but they couldn’t persuade his mother. Mothers-in-law have authority over child-rearing decisions in many Indian households, but Sharmila concluded that she couldn’t abide by that social norm. She went ahead and did what she believed was best for her and her family.
For women to fulfill their amazing potential, they tell me over and over again, they need the power to decide when to have children, so they can keep their families healthy, well-nourished and educated. In the year ahead, many women will for the first time begin to harness this power.
Just a few years ago, most women like Sharmila didn’t understand the dangers of having children one after the other; didn’t know about intrauterine devices and other long-lasting, reversible contraceptives; and couldn’t have received one at a local clinic even if they had known. Now, the Indian government is investing billions of dollars to make sure women have access to information about family planning and to excellent medical care.
The fact that Sharmila’s determination is matched by a commitment from the Indian government is a turning point for women in poor countries: In 2014, tens of millions of women who have never had access to contraceptives will start being able to plan their families. The result will be millions of children who are healthier, stay in school and together drive greater prosperity on a massive scale.
In July 2012, I co-hosted a summit meeting on family planning in London. The evidence was clear:
The world had been underinvesting in the field for years, with serious consequences for women, their families and their communities. We invited leaders from dozens of countries and key global health organizations and private industry, along with women’s health advocates, to put the needs of women back on the global agenda. It was deeply moving to see older advocates who’d given their lives to this issue pass their passion to a new generation. The participants signed onto a big goal: helping 120 million women who didn’t have access to family planning to get it by 2020.
To read the full article, please click here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/28/opinion/a-force-of-120-million.html?_r=0