The condom - the invisible development issue

By 2030, everyone will have access to contraception. The world leaders have promised that. But it is not enough to just ensure distribution and infrastructure. People must be given power and the right to decide over their own bodies. So far, more than 225 million people lack contraceptives, writes Maria Andersson, Secretary General of RFSU, the Swedish Association for Sexual Enlightenment.

There is ample evidence that people who are allowed to decide on their childbirth stay in school longer, have better finances and give birth to healthier children with fewer risks to the pregnant woman's health. Contraceptives are an important part of a broader rights agenda and the obstacles that exist to being able to use contraceptives must be highlighted from several angles. Through Agenda 2030, world leaders have committed themselves to making contraception accessible to all. Funding, political will and popular support are now needed.

Last week, RFSU launched one video in which we call on the American space agency NASA to send a condom into space to pay tribute to the invention. The condom is the only contraceptive for men and the only contraceptive that protects against both sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. The film for NASA is RFSU's way of drawing attention to a very important but, unfortunately, invisible development issue.

Clear link to poverty

The lack of contraceptives, including condoms, leads to serious consequences. AIDS-related diseases kill more than a million people each year, and hundreds of thousands of women and girls die as a result of unsafe abortions and childbirth-related complications. Although deaths linked to AIDS and maternal mortality have decreased over the past decade, it is still hitting many people, communities and countries hard.

There is a clear link between poverty and low contraceptive use. In Central and Western Africa, less than 10 percent of the population uses modern contraception, to take one example. But it is also due to opposition from social conservative and religious leaders who do not want young people to have access to sex education and contraception. While there is a strong notion that young people should not have sex, about 16 million teenagers give birth to children every year, and the absolute majority of these are married.

Space condoms can spread knowledge

Sweden should contribute both financially and through political work. For more people to have access to contraception, it is not enough to just ensure distribution and infrastructure. Access to, and use of, contraception depends equally on acceptance in society. People must be given power and the right to decide over their own bodies and if and when they want to have children.

With the film, RFSU wants to spread knowledge and generate curiosity among the Swedish public about issues related to sexual and reproductive health and rights and how it is related to poverty reduction. If NASA launches contraceptives into space, even more people will talk about the importance of the vital invention to humanity. In the long run, this could lead to contraception ending up higher on the political agenda.

Maria Andersson

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