Sex and money: The link between reproductive rights and economic prosperity
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Sex and money: The link between reproductive rights and economic prosperity

CHELSEA Clinton got slammed recently by the American right for pointing out the economic benefits of women entering the workforce after the controversial Roe v. Wade law made abortion legal in the US.

Right-wing media was quick to paint her views as evil, one commentator even compared her to Hitler. But when Clinton suggested the rise in women entering the workforce and the development of reproductive rights were linked, she wasn’t wrong.

Sexual rights are so often seen as a women’s issue. Something that is there for the sole benefit of women, and while the policy on sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) do predominantly impact women, it is the far-reaching implications of this that have a material effect on all society.

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And yet progress on ensuring SRHR for all has been worryingly slow. A  2018 report from the Guttmacher–Lancet Commission found each year in developing regions, more than 30 million women do not give birth in a health facility, more than 45 million have inadequate or no antenatal care, and more than 200 million women want to avoid pregnancy but are not using modern contraception.

Fixing this should be a focus of today’s governments, not just for direct improvement of each woman’s life, but for the bigger picture that has been proven time and time again; that comprehensive sexual rights for women result in economic development for all.

On one hand, there are the obvious, direct benefits of reducing a country’s healthcare spending.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) found that ensuring women have access to contraceptives significantly reduces a whole raft of health issues. These include a 67 percent drop in maternal deaths, 77 percent drop in newborn deaths, childbirth-related disability would fall by 66 percent, and the transmission of HIV from mothers to their child would be reduced by a whopping 93 percent.

There is also the impact on the workforce. When the number of dependent children in a country decreases, the ratio of productive workers to dependents increases, driving economic growth and reducing the burden on families.

Regardless of where you are in the world, access to contraception enables women to control the timing and size of their families. They are able to only have children when they are financially secure and emotionally ready, allowing them to finish their education and advance in the workplace. After all, having children is expensive.

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This applies to all women, regardless of socioeconomic status, but can have a significant effect on the rate of poverty when poor women are given access to contraception.

Preventing unintended pregnancy increases women’s and girls’ ability to both access education and employment opportunities and participate more fully in social, political and economic life. This directly reduces poverty, enabling them to contribute financially and with fewer children to care for.

These benefits extend to the next generation. One America-based study found individuals’ access to contraceptives increased their children’s college completion, labour force participation, wages, and family incomes decades later.

Unfortunately, it is those women living in poverty who struggle the most to access contraception. One reason being the cost of birth control.

Governments need to make sure that all women have this access, but especially those most vulnerable. Politicians cannot promise to grow the economy and simultaneously limit access to abortion, birth control and sexual education. A nation’s economic health and women’s reproductive health are linked.

In the end, empowering women – regardless of socioeconomic status – with more options to control pregnancies has benefits for everyone.