March 8 is International Women’s Day (IWD), a day celebrated worldwide to mark the economic, political, and social achievements of women. And, while women’s rights have advanced considerably in a world of still mostly patriarchal cultures, we nevertheless have a long way to go to achieve true equality.
This year’s IWD theme, as designated by the United Nations, is Equal access to education, training, and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women
I completely agree that access to those resources is necessary for women to progress in the workplace. However, there are other, more basic, considerations that must not be overlooked: Access to sex education and family planning services. After all, even today in the modern industrialized West, many girls and young women still find themselves having to drop out of high school or college due to pregnancy. And this sets them on a potential course to lifelong underachievement. Most pregnant teenagers do not share Bristol Palin’s socio-economic privileges, and cannot feed their families by dancing with the stars.
WomensHealthChannel.com lists the following grim statistics on the consequences of teen pregnancy:
- Teenage births are associated with lower annual income for the mother. Eighty percent of teen mothers must rely on welfare at some point.
- Teenage mothers are more likely to drop out of school. Only about one-third of teen mothers obtain a high school diploma.
- Teenage pregnancies are associated with increased rates of alcohol and substance abuse, lower educational level, and reduced earning potential in teen fathers.
- In the United States, the annual cost of teen pregnancies from lost tax revenues, public assistance, child health care, foster care, and involvement with the criminal justice system is estimated to be about $7 billion.
Still, many on the political right are doing all they can to undermine any chance of dealing with the problem in a practical, scientific manner. For years they have been pushing for abstinence-only sex education, as opposed to safe-sex education, and that has proven to be ineffective at best. Telling kids not to have sex is not ultimately going to stop them. It just makes them unprepared for dealing with the potential consequences when they do have sex.
To further compound the problem, the right has waged an all-out war on the Planned Parenthood organization. In their first line of attack, anti-choice groups and individuals have been saturating the airwaves with distorted video and audio clips suggesting that Planned Parenthood provides services to illegal sex traffickers and encourages abortions for teenage rape victims without reporting the crimes.
In another line of attack, Republicans on Capitol Hill are trying to block federal funding for Planned Parenthood, even though, as Elise Foley pointed out at the Huffington Post, “Planned Parenthood does not currently spend federal money on abortion services.” With the abortion issue out of the federal funding picture, it’s just about women’s health—low-income women’s health. And, if the Republicans succeed, countless low-income women may have to go without birth control and—more importantly—without health screenings.
This could result in more unwanted pregnancies due to harder-to-obtain contraception. It could result in an increase in cervical cancer due to harder-to-obtain Pap smears. And it could result in an increase of sexually transmitted disease due to reduced availability of STD education and treatment.
Overall, it has the appearance of a Republican war on women. Or, rather, a Republican war on non-rich women.
And we must fight back hard. Only with well-informed reproductive freedom can we hope to someday achieve true equality in education and the workplace.
Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views appear regularly in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites. Note that the ideas expressed here are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Amnesty International or any other organization with which she may be associated. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.