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Pathways to Parenthood Q3 2023

Beyond reproductive health: how to ensure reproductive autonomy for women

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Courtney Hale

Tabinda Sarosh

President, South Asia, Middle East, North Africa, Pathfinder 

Agency, confidence, healthy relationships and financial resources are crucial to women and girls’ reproductive autonomy and owning their pathways to parenthood.

Each woman and girl wants to own her ‘pathway to parenthood’ — calling the shots about sex, marriage and childbearing.

To have reproductive autonomy, we must have the requisite education and knowledge, decision-making and negotiation skills, healthy relationships and financial resources. Without these things, the contraceptive services offered nearby — no matter how close — will remain out of reach.  

More knowledge, more reproductive autonomy 

From a young age, girls can learn about their bodies. Teaching girls about puberty, menstrual cycles, pregnancy and childbirth is integral to informed decisions about sex and reproduction. Women, too, can continue to learn about reproductive health, contraceptive options and where comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare is offered. 

Confidence, agency and decision-making power 

Women and girls must have the confidence to negotiate for what they want and hold fast to the decisions that are best for them. Keeping girls in school and ensuring women can have careers and hold leadership positions helps to reinforce confidence. Women can serve as role models to other women and girls, instilling in them the confidence and agency to stand by their decisions about sex, pregnancy and childbirth. 

Men must be expected to view
and treat women as equals.

Men who support women 

Things like forced marriage, teenage pregnancy, school dropouts and sexual violence are a direct result of misogynistic cultures found all over the world. Men must be expected to view and treat women as equals, be respectful partners in parenting their children and learn about women’s sexual and reproductive health, so they can contribute to informed decisions about childbearing.  

A little money goes a long way 

Without financial independence, there is little women can do on their own. She may know where to get the contraceptive pills she needs to prevent pregnancy, for example. However, if she has no money to spend on transportation to the clinic, the pills remain out of reach. We must support women in the workforce, women-led businesses and keeping girls in school.  

We know these things because, at Pathfinder, we’ve helped millions of women and girls around the world gain reproductive autonomy — from girls in Jordan to Maasai women in Tanzania and newly married young women in India.

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