How easy is it for expat women to find contraception?

Expat news
  • woman holding contraceptive options
Published on 2022-08-03 at 09:00 by Ester Rodrigues
Recent research from the University of Washington points out that more than 160 million women worldwide didn't have access to contraception methods as of 2019. This can be a significant concern for women planning to move abroad with or without a partner and not looking to give birth and make a family. 

The research points out significant inequalities over the past five decades among some 1,2 billion women considered to need some form of contraception. In fact, most of these women lived in poorly developed countries. Moreover, while a rise in the number of women using contraception has been recorded during the same period (48% as at 2019), many of them had to stop due to poor access over the past three years.

Women and birth control: a global insight

An essential part of sexual education and prevention is contraceptive methods, a world that implies a wide range of options that require professional guidance and above all, visibility and access. Many countries don't have availability, and some cultures see it as negative for women. These situations lead women to opt for the most classic options to prevent pregnancy, such as the pastilles for the day after or condoms. 

Around 314 million women and girls are using modern contraception, according to a study by the Family Planning Partnership in 2020, which is focused on 69 low-income countries and uses statistics from national surveys, health services and UN population data. The report found that 53 million women have begun using contraceptives since 2012 – far fewer than the 120 million women experts had hoped to reach by 2020.

Birth control has been around since the 1960s, and although it's used by more than 62% of women of reproductive age worldwide, it is met with much controversy, especially by religions and cultures. 

Religions and cultures

Judaism, Catholicism, and Islam provide a loophole for the use of birth control: to support the mother's health. But this is the only exception. Family planning and the use of contraceptives for any other reason (i.e., to save money), single women who want to have sexual relations, are all looked down upon.

Catholic Church's stand on contraception

According to Pandia Health, the Catholic Church is a Christian denomination that adheres to a historical standard on birth control/contraception, which is that any form of contraceptive use is against their religion. The Vatican released an encyclical by Pope Paul VI entitled Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”), which included an outline of the Catholic view on birth control. The Catholic Church officially believes that birth control is a violation of natural law and that sexual intercourse is for the purpose of procreation. Any pleasure derived from sexual intercourse is a by-product of procreation and is intended to strengthen the loving bond between husband and wife – it is further believed that these bonds create the ideal environment for raising children. They are formally not in favor of any form of artificial contraception, such as the pill and all hormonal methods of birth control, withdrawal method, sterilization (a.k.a permanent pregnancy prevention from the removal of sex organs), and the use of condoms and other barrier methods

However, surveys on birth control use in the U.S. have found that 77% of married women use a form of contraception versus 42% of non-married women. In addition, 89% of Catholic women use a contraceptive, while 90% of Protestant women use one. Even though the Protestant denominations are more lenient on birth control use, rates of contraceptive use are relatively the same between Catholic women and Protestant women.

Islam's stand on contraception

According to most scholars on religion and women's rights, Islam does not prohibit birth control. Furthermore, Islam's view of birth control is focused on the context of marriage and family, as sex is allowed just with a couple is married. But when a couple does decide to procreate, it should be when they are ready for children. This being said, contraception allows Muslim families to have children when they want and are prepared.

Around the globe: where is it easier and harder to find contraceptives? 

According to the Contraception Policy Atlas 2022 in Europe, Poland has Europe's worst contraception policies, according to a new ranking by the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights. The country is the only one on the continent categorized as having “exceptionally poor” policies. At the other end of the scale, Belgium, France, and the United Kingdom (all 91.1%) were found to have the best policies. 

The Contraception Policy Atlas assesses 46 European countries based on a range of measures relating to contraception, including whether their costs are reimbursed by the health system, what kind of counseling is available, and how much information is provided by the authorities. Poland, the worst, marked 33.5%, below Russia (42.8%) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (44.3%). 

Poland was the only country where emergency contraception was rated as unavailable. In 2017, the national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government made access to the morning-after pill available only on prescription. Women's rights groups have argued that, in practice, this makes the pills inaccessible for many women. 

Another study on contraception carried out in developing countries in 2016 found that overall contraceptive prevalence among all women 15–49 at risk for pregnancy (all those who are married as well as those who are unmarried and sexually active) ranged from 13% in Senegal to 79% in Vietnam. By subregion, contraceptive prevalence varied widely and was extremely low in Western African countries (range, 13–19%) and low in Eastern African countries (14–58%). It was somewhat higher in countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (28–69%) and Southern Asia (35–61%), and generally the highest in Latin American countries (38–77%), Southeastern Asia (49–79%), and Northern Africa and Western Asia (51–72%).