Universal access to reproductive health


Mothers holding their newly-born babies pose for a photo at Fabella hospital, a government-run maternity hospital during World Population Day in Manila on July 11, 2009.


Ted Aljibe

This Halloween, the world's population hit 7000000000 people.  What does this mean? Maureen Greenwood-Basken, the director of policy initiatives in the Women and Population Program of the United Nations Foundation, explains some of the significance of a number that's hard to grasp.  Greenwood-Basken leads an initiative on Strengthening US Leadership on International Reproductive Health and Family Planning, managing a multi-stakeholder effort of foundations and NGOs. She earned a M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago and a B.A. from the University of Michigan. 


How did you get involved in the issues surrounding women’s reproductive rights?

I come from a long line of feminists, including my grandmother and my mother. I remember watching them do skits about women’s rights in Chicago in the 1970s. Right after graduate school, I volunteered in the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Chicago. A bunch of us drove across the country all night for the Washington DC March on Women’s Lives 1992 to protect women’s reproductive rights. I wanted to make change. I still do.

What’s your strategy to make women's reproductive health issues move to the forefront?

I currently lead an initiative at the UN Foundation called “Strengthening US Leadership on International Reproductive Health and Family Planning.”

This program supports the goals set forth by the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to reach universal access to reproductive health.

The initiative is a collaborative effort of the UN Foundation, Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Summit Foundation, the Wallace Global Fund and an anonymous donor.

The initiative, acting as a bridge between the foundation and NGO communities, is:

• Conducting strategic grant-making to U.S. NGOs for advocacy activities to strengthen U.S. leadership on international reproductive health and family planning;

• Creating a new evidence-based research report on the importance of international reproductive health and family planning;

• Laying the groundwork for long-term public support;

- Conducting advocacy and coordinating strategy in concert with other foundations; and

• Connecting the U.S. with the United Nations on international reproductive health and family planning.

There's been some concern expressed by conservatives, especially in the US, that family planning can be linked to abortion? How do you tackle this issue?

US law prohibits US funding of abortions overseas.

Currently more 215 million women want access to contraception and do not have it. Meeting this demand for contraception would result in a 32% decrease in maternal deaths, reduce abortion in developing countries by 70%, and reduce infant mortality by 10 percent. (Population Action International Policy and Issue Brief, October 13, 2010).

Should people be alarmed by the world reaching 7 billion people?

With the birth of the 7th billion child, it is more important than ever that we answer critical questions regarding population, health and sustainability. Demands for water, trees, food and fossil fuels will increase as our population increases. Protecting these resources for future generations is our responsibility.

The solution is empowering women and ensuring human rights for all.

When women are educated, they tend to voluntarily choose smaller family size.

When women and families are able to choose the timing, number and spacing of their children through access to modern contraception, maternal deaths decrease and infant and child survival increases.

With access to voluntary contraception, parents are better able to feed and clothe the children that they do have and enable the children to go to school. Mothers are better able to engage in economic livelihood activities, leading to healthier families and more prosperous communities.

The growing recognition of women and girls as catalysts of change – and the subsequent increases of investments in their future – is a huge accomplishment. There are more initiatives than ever before targeted at women. And there is much work to be done.