In 1995, thousands of women’s rights activists, policy makers and UN representatives came together in Beijing for the historic Fourth World Conference on Women.
World leaders pledged to advance gender equality with the Beijing Declaration. But almost 25 years later, what progress have we really made toward a more equal world — and what work do we have left to do? Let’s take a look at the challenges we still face, and what we can do to address them.
Roadblocks to equality
- Unsafe abortion: Globally, 1 in 4 women will have an abortion in their lifetime. Of the 56 million abortions that happen each year, 25 million are unsafe — and the consequences are devastating. An estimated 22,800 women and girls die from unsafe abortion, and another 7 million suffer serious, often permanent, injuries.
- Lack of access to contraception: Worldwide, 214 million women don’t want to get pregnant but can’t access contraception. Meeting this need would reduce unintended pregnancies by about three-quarters, resulting in an estimated 76,000 fewer pregnancy-related deaths each year.
- Unequal access: Some women have particular difficulty accessing contraception and safe abortion. Women living with disabilities, women living in poverty, rural women and minority women still face barriers to getting the services they need.
- Barriers for adolescents: 23 million adolescents can’t access contraception. Every year, an estimated 3.2 million adolescent girls in low- and middle-income countries resort to unsafe abortion, putting their lives at risk. Complications from pregnancy are the leading cause of death for girls age 15–19.
How can we make progress?
Remove unnecessary restrictions on safe abortion. Studies show that making abortion illegal or hard to access doesn’t stop women from getting one — it just makes women resort to dangerous methods. But when countries remove unnecessary legal roadblocks, they can reduce unsafe abortion and save lives. In Nepal for example, decriminalization of abortion led to a 50% drop in pregnancy-related deaths over the following decade.
Make services more available. In many countries, doctors aren’t always available — but nurses, midwives and community health workers can be trained to provide contraception and safe abortion. By expanding who can provide care, we can make it easier for women to get the care they want and need.
Invest in reproductive health. Advancing reproductive rights helps reduce poverty, empowers women and girls, and contributes to social stability. Access to contraception is one of the most cost-effective approaches to improving maternal health. These services make an impact — but only if they’re fully funded. Governments should make sure that contraception and abortion services are affordable and available, and donors should do their part to expand access.