Sexual and reproductive health

Amijay Kebele, a member of a CARE-supported group in Ethiopia that works with teenage girls to promote healthy life choices

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Every woman has the right to make her own decisions

Maternal health infographic

A woman’s social and economic status, and her physical health, is inextricably linked to her ability to exercise her reproductive rights. That’s why CARE supports girls’ and women’s right to safe childbirth, reproductive self-determination and bodily integrity.

But it’s not just a matter of women’s rights. It’s also a key way to reduce poverty. When women and their partners have access to family planning information and services, everyone benefits. Maternal mortality rates drop, children are healthier and better educated, incomes rise and relationships are stronger.

Now that I can control my pregnancies, I can be sure that my children go to school. I never had the time to finish my studies, but they will. I will see a better life through my children. – Anifa, Democratic Republic of Congo

Meeting needs

We ensure women’s reproductive health needs are met both in emergencies and through long-term community-based work.

During times of natural disasters and conflict-related emergencies, women and girls are exposed to an increased risk of sexual violence, unwanted pregnancies and overall lack of control over their situation. Health systems may have collapsed, supplies are scarce, and conditions are hostile to pregnancy and childbearing.

CARE is a founding member of the Reproductive Health in Emergencies Consortium, and in 2012 we adopted sexual and reproductive health as one of four focal areas for our humanitarian response, along with food, shelter and water. We are committed to providing the Minimal Initial Service Package for Reproductive Health as part of our emergency responses, and we aim to ensure women have access to the advice, support, protection and health services they need, even in challenging contexts and circumstances.

Empowering women

Our long-term sexual and reproductive health programmes focus on family planning, antenatal care, access to services, and prevention, detection and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and AIDS.

But our experience shows that the sexual and reproductive health and rights of girls and women cannot be achieved through the provision of health services alone. Real change requires addressing the underlying gender inequality and gender-based violence that undermines the health of women and girls throughout their lives.

In Uttar Pradesh, India, a CARE-supported maternal health programme aims to do just this – and it is bringing important shifts in gender norms. Female participants were significantly more likely to have the freedom to go out alone and to spend their own money, as well as to believe in their right to refuse unwanted sex. Couples were more likely to discuss sexuality and make household decisions together. The proportion of women using family planning rose from 7% to 35%, and the number of women delivering their babies with a trained provider more than doubled.