FE43DF93-13CD-493E-BEF2-A77A9E7D6926 Copenhagen Consensus Center Logo
Copenhagen Consensus Center

Supporting Women’s Reproductive Role

The Challenge

In many developing countries, women still face disproportionate risks to their health during pregnancy and childbirth. Many do not have control over their bodies because they lack access to family planning services and contraceptives.

In 2008, every day about 1000 women died due to complications during birth, infections and unsafe abortions. Out of the 1000, 570 live in sub-Saharan Africa, 300 in South Asia and just five in high-income countries. According to the World Health Organization, the risk of a woman in a developing country dying from a pregnancy-related cause during her lifetime is about 36 times higher than that of a woman living in a developed country.

Teenage pregnancy rates remain high in developing countries, especially in Africa. Childbearing at a young age increases the risks of complications for both mother and child. For many girls, an early marriage or unwanted pregnancy means cutting their education short.

Greater access to family planning services and contraceptives is crucial to women’s empowerment.

Nearly two in ten women in developing countries report that they would like to stop having more children. In sub-Saharan Africa, where contraceptive use is lower than elsewhere, around a quarter of women say their need for family planning is not met.


The Solution

To delay marriage and childbearing allows girls to have more education and perhaps better job prospects later in life. These benefits are worth ten-times the cost of providing family planning services and maternal care.

Family planning services, modern contraceptive methods and maternal health care help empower women and save lives.

In some areas, health centers are needed to provide prenatal care. Routine prenatal care includes screening and treatment of syphilis, immunization, prevention and treatment of anemia – or prevention and treatment of malaria.

During pregnancy, malnutrition affects the mother’s and child´s health. Malnourished women are more likely to have infants of low birth-weight which increases the risk of disease and death in infants. Multivitamins, macronutrient supplements and iron and folic acid are effective in combating many health issues and can lower the risk of low birth-weight. Research has shown that maternal health programs can be more cost-effective if nutritional supplementation is included.

During childbirth, even minor complications can pose great risks and emergency care may be needed. Ensuring that skilled professionals provide delivery services can lower these risks.

After birth, routine examinations need to be provided for new mothers and their infants.


The Research

The benefits of fewer unwanted pregnancies, fewer abortions and other indirect impacts of contraception on women’s and children’s health are substantial, according to Elizabeth King, Stephan Klasen, and Maria Porter, authors of the ‘Women and Development’ paper for Copenhagen Consensus 2008.

King et al examine the impact of family planning services, emergency contraception, and support for safe births. Women who give birth in their 20s rather than in their teens are less likely to have complications during pregnancy and delivery.

King et al estimate that spending $3.9 billion (€2.8 billion) on family planning and maternal health initiatives such as providing emergency contraception in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia could avert 1.4 million infant deaths and 142,000 pregnancy-related deaths.

Fully meeting women’s need for family planning would prevent 52 million pregnancies each year, 22 million induced abortions, and 142,000 pregnancy-related deaths. And 505,000 children would not be orphaned because their mothers died while giving birth.

In the Copenhagen Consensus 2008 ‘Women and Development’ Perspective Paper, Aysit Tansel points out that women with fewer children have better chances at participating in the labor market and can work more hours. As a result, their children enjoy more schooling, better nutrition, and health care.


Where to Find Out More

The Copenhagen Consensus research that this section draws from:

Women and Development: Copenhagen Consensus 2008 Challenge Paper
Elizabeth King, S. Klasen, M. Porter

Women and Development: Copenhagen Consensus 2008 Perspective Paper
Aysit Tansel

Women and Development Chapters
in Global Crises, Global Solutions, second edition

The Expert Panel's joint explanation for their rankings is available for download here. The Expert Panel's individual rankings and further elaboration can be found in the book, Global Crises, Global Solutions, second edition.