Speaking of Women's Rights: Holding Up Half the Sky – In Our Own Backyard

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Holding Up Half the Sky – In Our Own Backyard

Sometimes – especially here in the gray Northwest – you have to savor those rays of sunshine when they appear, just soak them up and hope they will sustain you till the next golden drops appear. The other day, I heard a snippet on the radio that gave me just such a boost. The interviewee said:

"There’s a direct connection between a woman’s ability to plan her family, space her pregnancies and give birth safely and her ability to get an education, work outside the home, support her family and participate fully in the life of her community."

Now, you might be thinking, “Well, yes – that’s what advocates have been saying for a long time!” But this becomes newsworthy when it comes from the U.S. Secretary of State (you can watch the video of her speech here) – AND when it is backed up by high-level government support, including funding for the U.N. population and development fund and increases in reproductive health education services.

So, this is great news for those who support reproductive health care and women’s empowerment. But now (prepare to be whipsawed), this is the kind of news that draws down on my “sunshine” bank: here in our own backyards, domestic family planning services are on the chopping block. In Washington State, family planning funding is scheduled to be cut by another $3 million in July, on top of the $500,000-per-year cut instituted in the 2009 legislative session.

If the cuts go into effect, at least 19 more clinics are likely to close this year – over a quarter of all the low-income family planning clinics in the state. Four have already closed in the past year.

And what’s more – the cuts will likely end up costing the state rather than saving money. Without family planning services, there will be an estimated 3,000+ additional unintended pregnancies this year among people who have lost services, resulting in over $11 million in costs for unintended pregnancy care. Translation: an $8 million cost instead of the $3 million savings.

It’s here, right in our own backyard – the opportunity to help women, who “hold up half the sky” (as the Chinese saying goes). Let’s help low-income women retain access to family planning services – and thereby, control over their family size and family economic opportunities – by speaking out to our friends, neighbors, and legislators, in opposition to the proposed budget cuts. It won’t cost you a thing, and winning this fight will save us all money and add to our collective reserve of sunshine.