Pathfinder: Working to Break Down Barriers

Pathfinder President, Purnima Mane, visits clients in the field

Some of you may have seen our No Joke. Choice Matters. Everywhere. video we just released. The satire is funny, but the reality is not. There are still far too many barriers for women—and men!—who want to access sexual and reproductive health care. From the distance women have to travel for services, to stock outs, to cultural barriers, women are not getting what they need.

I still remember the despondency of a young woman I worked with as a social worker in the slums of Mumbai—a mother of two girls at the age of 19. As I sat with her, she told me stoically that she would have to continue to submit to childbirth despite the family poverty and her own failing health until she could produce a male offspring. Cultural pressures and lack of access to quality health care left her without a choice. It left her without the right to make a decision about her body, and stuck in a cycle of poor health and wellbeing. Choice matters. Everywhere. That’s why we created the video.

The memory of her, the 220 million women just like her across the globe who still lack access to contraception, and my deep belief in the importance of respecting every woman’s right to choose motivates me and drives my work here at Pathfinder.

I’m happy to say that I see an opportunity to turn the tide toward empowerment for women like the young mother I met so many years ago. Following the London Family Planning Summit(which had incredible attendance from civil society, international organizations, world leaders and individuals), I feel energized by the commitments we came together as a community to make in support of universal access to family planning and reproductive justice.

As my colleague Tewodros Melesse from IPPF said, “The London Summit on Family Planning was a celebration of decades of work, a very public statement of principles and new political will, a commitment of funds, and a call to arms.”

I couldn’t agree more. And now we must turn words into action. We must continue to affirm the rights of all people to enjoy a healthy sexual and reproductive life and to bolster the political will to act with and in support of women everywhere. We need to continue to discuss what challenges exist, and think outside the box to find solutions which work for the communities who need them. Although hundreds of people gathered in London for the Family Planning Summit, there are thousands more who do not yet know what women are encountering every day nor that there are very real benefits of protecting women’s rights to reproductive health—healthier women, healthier communities, healthier children, more productive economies.

Pathfinder is already working to break down the barriers to women’s access of reproductive health services. Through a combination of direct service provision, political advocacy, and community driven social change programs, Pathfinder is able to facilitate lasting improvements in sexual and reproductive health and rights. Remember the woman in the video who was unable to receive contraception because her husband wasn’t with her? In communities around the world, with Pathfinder’s assistance, governments have ceased such requirements, men have decided they are comfortable with women choosing their own method of birth control, and women have gained the ability and confidence to speak up for their own needs. Moreover, in such communities Pathfinder has supported and empowered women and men to provide contraceptives as well as teach their neighbors and friends the benefits of supporting women’s right to access family planning when they wish to.

But, it’s not enough. And that’s why we need your voice. Tell me and tell Pathfinder what else can be done to meet the needs of millions of women around the world who still live without enjoyment of basic human rights and choice over what happens to their bodies. How can the entire global community who are dedicated to ensuring sexual and reproductive health and rights maintain the momentum begun in London? We need your ideas and your voices. Tell us, or tell your friends, your representatives, your family about the importance of truly supporting women, and the need to contribute resources and political will to meeting the unmet need for reproductive health services.

I invite you to think outside the box, and join the conversation in the comments below.

Purnima Mane

Purnima Mane is Pathfinder's President and Chief Executive Officer. She oversees more than 1,000 staff around the world, an annual budget exceeding $100 million, and sexual and reproductive health programs in more than 20 developing countries.

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