Friday, June 11, 2010

Women Deliver a Strong Message to Congress

By Brian Dixon, Vice President for Media and Government Relations

The Women Deliver conference was held in Washington, DC this week, bringing more than 3,500 people from 140+ countries together to focus on the desperate need to improve reproductive health and family planning access around the world.

The culmination of this event was Thursday’s Lobby Day. I spent the day as a “team leader,” meaning I made sure that three very impressive people from outside the United States could get around the Capitol complex to tell their stories to American legislators. My team consisted of the Honorable Saudatu Sani, one of the few female members of Nigeria’s House of Representatives; Dr. Nehemiah Kimathi, the director of the Safe Motherhood program for the International Planned Parenthood Federation Africa Region in Nairobi, Kenya; and Dr. Monica Jasis, who runs a program to improve adolescent reproductive health in Mexico.

It’s easy to get tired and frustrated by the seemingly endless debate about family planning and abortion that takes place in the United States. Hearing the stories of these people, who face challenges every day that Americans can barely even consider, makes clear how important this work really is. In Nigeria, and indeed in much of sub-Saharan Africa, stock outs of contraceptives are common. In Mexico, abortion opponents are encouraging doctors to breach medical privacy and denounce to the police women and girls they think might have had an unsafe, illegal abortion--making it less likely that these girls and women will seek urgent care in the case of such an abortion or even in the case of a miscarriage.

Their stories are important to share with members of the United States Congress. They need to hear what it's really like. Few have witnessed the often dire conditions in the developing world. Few have spoken to people from overseas who, while having no say in American politics, can have their lives turned upside down by what happens here in the U.S. For example, it is women served by the clinics overseen by Dr. Kimathi who are hurt by the imposition of the Global Gag Rule, and it is the constituents of Rep. Sani who lose out when the United States refuses to support the work of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). American officials and, indeed, American voters need to understand that what happens here has massive effects everywhere, and that it's time to invest in women. It pays.