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Memo to the United Nations Women » Women's Courage

Memo to the United Nations Women

March 11th, 2011 by aherrera Leave a reply »

TO: The United Nations Women

FROM: Amelia Herrera

RE: Women’s Access to Contraception in the Middle East

My name is Amelia Herrera, and I am writing to you concerning an issue that has a significant impact on the safety and well-being of women today in the Middle East. Many countries in the Middle East are struggling to either reduce or maintain their current population growth rate. Outside of Africa, countries in the Middle East have some of the highest fertility rates in the world: Afghanistan has a rate of 5.39, the Gaza strip has a rate of 4.74, in Yemen the rate is 4.63, and the rate in Iraq is 3.67.[1] According to the United Nations Population Fund, The ability for women to plan how many children they have and when they have them is a recognized basic human right, and access to contraceptives save millions of infant lives every year, reduce poverty, slow population growth, and stabilize the environment as well as economy.[2]

The Middle East is a diverse region that encompasses many different cultures, traditions, economies, political structures, and religions. However, many countries in the Middle East consist of populations predominantly practicing Islam. This presents a distinct challenge in that under Sharia law, the sacred law of the Islamic faith, women are not given the same rights and roles as men, although it is made clear in the Qur’an that they are deemed to be equal. The way that these laws are realized differ from country to country, but in many cases they present significant challenges to women, especially in accessing contraception. In  the UAE, physicians are required to have consent of the spouse in order to prescribe women contraception.[3] In Saudi Arabia, women are often required the escort of a male guardian to even enter a hospital, depending on the belief system of the hospital administrator.[4]

There are Middle Eastern countries that have had successful reductions in fertility rate in the past decade or so. This includes Iran, which has implemented a large scale media campaign by the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance that raised awareness of population issues in Iran and promoted family planning services. This in turn effectively reduced the fertility rate from 3.2% in 1986 to 1.2% in 2001, one of the fastest drops ever recorded in history.[5] While many governments have expressed that they are taking efforts to reduce birth rates, few are contributing significant financial resources to make sure that this is indeed the case. Not until countries commit financially will there be any real change for women, who are putting their health and the health of their children in danger through ineffective family planning access.


[1] https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2127rank.html?countryName=Iran&countryCode=ir&regionCode=me&rank=146#ir

[2] http://www.unfpa.org/rh/planning/mediakit/docs/new_docs/sheet1-english.pdf

[3] http://secretdubai.blogspot.com/2009/03/lie-back-and-think-of-abu-dhabi.html

[4] http://www.hrw.org/en/node/62251/section/6

[5] http://www.earth-policy.org/index.php?/plan_b_updates/2001/update4ss

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