The corona pandemic has created a shortage of contraceptives and poorer access to abortion. Photo: Lorie Shaull and the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition

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Abortion, contraception and sex education are threatened during the corona pandemic

Unsafe abortions, lack of contraception, canceled sex education and deteriorating maternity care. These are some of the consequences of the corona pandemic. Millions of girls and women around the world can suffer from unwanted pregnancies and deaths.

Closed factories, broken supply chains and import restrictions are some examples of the consequences of the corona pandemic. This has led to a reduced production of, among other things, contraceptives and products for safe abortions.

There is a great risk that there will be a global shortage of condoms. The company Karex in Malaysia - which manufactures every fifth condom in the world - had to stay closed for a period due to the corona pandemic. Now the factory has reopened, but with only half the workforce in place. This leads to the lack of condoms will be for several months.

According to the aid authority Sida's CEO Carin Jämtin there can be a sharp increase in HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and increased maternal mortality when there is a shortage of vital products. 

Another problem is that fewer and fewer women can go to clinics for help, due to quarantine rules. Aid organizations fear that over 9 million women who would otherwise have received help in 2020 could suffer from, among other things, unwanted pregnancies and death.

Women in low-income countries are an extra vulnerable group that will be hit hard by the pandemic, says Katarina Bergehed, an expert in women's rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) at Amnesty International.

- Low-income countries often have poor health care and thus SRHRs are often ignored when these countries redistribute resources to deal with crises, she says.

Previous experience of the Ebola virus infection - which mainly spread in West Africa in 2014 - shows that resources for sexual and reproductive health were used to fight the epidemic. This led to maternal mortality in the region increased. 

One example is Sierra Leone - a country that was hit hard by Ebola. As a result of, for example, closed clinics during the outbreak died 3 to 600 people in connection with, among other things, births, complications during pregnancy or stillborn children. This can be compared with the approximately 4 who died in the Ebola disease itself during the entire epidemic.

Conservative forces are exploiting the pandemic

Sexual and reproductive health are not only threatened by the practical consequences of corona pandemics. Conservative forces also use the pandemic to pursue their own agenda. In some states in the United States, abortions are canceled with the corona crisis as justification. Those in power believe that abortions are not necessary health care and that resources should be re-prioritized to deal with the corona crisis.

In Poland, abortion is only allowed if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, if the fetus has serious injuries or malformations or if the mother's life is considered threatened. The Polish government wants to do further austerity measures which in principle leads to a total ban on abortion. This issue has been on the ice since 2016 when the case was not pursued because the proposal was met with demonstrations. Now the situation is different. As a result of the corona crisis, large crowds are banned and the Polish government has once again raised the issue of a stricter ban on abortions.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of abortions in countries where it is banned does not decrease. Abortions then take place instead with unsafe and dangerous methods that lead to infections, sterility and death. According to the WHO, 47 girls and women in the world die from unsafe abortions every year. Only a third of the world's fertile women have the right to abortion, the rest do not.

According to the Swedish Association for Sexual Information RFSU, the right to abortion is a decisive factor for a more equal society and for women to be able to control their lives.

Sex education is equated with pedophilia

In Poland, the government also has plans to prohibit sex education because they equate teaching with pedophilia. In addition, the bill suggests that LGBTQI activists "infiltrate" sex education in Poland by "promoting homosexuality and the demoralization of children." The committee in Poland called "Stop Pedophilia" has also claimed that the law protects children from "sexual distortion". 

The directives on criminalizing sex education meet with opposition, as knowledge of sexual and reproductive health and rights is crucial to young people should be able to decide over their own bodies and lives.

- There is a strong mobilization for SRHR around the world, both at the individual level and in local organizations, the women's rights movement, international organizations and feminist movements, says Sara Österlund at RFSU.

Sara Österlund points out that SRHR is a human right, but it is also a matter of life and death. If there is no access to service, health care, safe abortions and maternity care, it can lead to major health problems - and in the worst case to death. 

800 women a day die from pregnancy and childbirth

Statistics from the UN show that it dies every day over 800 girls and women in the world due to complications associated with pregnancy and childbirth. These are complications that can easily be prevented with, for example, good and safe healthcare. Some of the most common causes of death are blood loss, blood poisoning, pregnancy poisoning and unsafe abortions. 

Many illnesses and deaths also occur after the birth has taken place. Therefore, it is extremely important that the care after the birth is good to ensure that both the baby and the mother are well physically and mentally.

In many parts of the world, SRHR issues are still in question. There is a lot of resistance and not all governments believe that sexual and reproductive rights should be accepted in society. Several governments are putting forward proposals that restrict people's fundamental rights, says Katarina Bergehed at Amnesty International. 

But much work is also being done to deal with the emergency regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights in the wake of the corona crisis. Sida gives SEK 20 million extra to countries in eastern and southern Africa to expand its stocks of, among other things, condoms, various contraceptives and equipment for medical abortions. In addition, 39 ministers in a joint statement stressed the importance of protecting sexual and reproductive health and rights and called for global support for gender equality.

- Sweden's feminist government can make a difference. In this situation, we must ensure that further development goes forward and not backwards, says Peter Eriksson, Minister for International Development Cooperation, in a press release from the government.

Sexual and reproductive health

Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) is a collective term. In short, this means the right to safe abortion, gynecological health care, maternity care, care of newborns, access to contraception and sex education.

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