Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Let’s Not Leave the Lives of Girls to Luck

by Katey Zeh

Exactly one year ago on an unusually warm winter evening, my fiancĂ© Matt and I got engaged. Ever since our lives have been filled with exciting plans for our wedding and joy-filled hopes for the next stage of our journey together as husband and wife. Now as we enter the last stretch of finalizing (and financing) the details of our special day, I cannot help but be reminded of just how fortunate I am. 

And I don't mean that in the typical "I'm the luckiest girl in the world" kind of way, though I do feel incredibly lucky to have a wonderful partner. What I really mean to highlight is how uncommon my life's journey of self-determination has been. Growing up in the United States in a family that valued education, I never questioned the path before me—to go to school, to pursue meaningful work, to live where I chose, to determine if, when, and whom I wanted to marry.

My work as an advocate for reproductive justice, specifically for global maternal health and family planning, has opened my eyes to the lived realities of women living in the developing world, especially those who live in poverty. Too often a girl's life is pre-determined by her gender, geography, and economic status. In the country of Chad, for example, a young girl is more likely to die from maternal mortality than she is to receive a secondary education. In a large, poor family struggling for survival, the girl children will often suffer malnourishment, receive little if any education, and enter marriage before her eighteenth birthday. An adolescent woman is twice as likely to die from childbirth than her older counterparts.

 Whether we live on opposite sides of the globe or opposites sides of the street, these disparities in women's life experiences between those who have and those who have not should cause us moral outrage. How could we ask a woman to lose her life in order to give birth to a child? And yet, every two minutes somewhere in the world a woman dies during pregnancy or childbirth. It's time for the Church to stand up for the world's women.

 Since 2010, I have directed the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet project of the General Board of Church and Society. This initiative is a response to the moral tragedy of maternal mortality and the unmet need of 222 million women worldwide who would like to plan and space their families, but do not have access to modern contraceptive information and services. Over the last three years we have educated thousands of United Methodists on the importance of investing in women's health. We have trained more than 75 faith leaders on advocacy for maternal health and family planning, and they are now partnering with us in building a nation-wide movement of advocates in their churches and communities. Together we are helping to create a healthier world for women, men, and their families.

Want to join the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet movement? Here’s what you can do right now.
  1. Watch this video.
  2. Visit our website and sign-up for more information.
  3. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
  4. Send a letter to your representative, urging US support for global health programs that support and protect women and their children.
  5. Consider becoming a Healthy Families, Healthy Planet Ambassador. Our next training will take place October 27-30 in Washington, D.C.
Katey Zeh is an advocate and organizer for reproductive justice. She directs the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet initiative of the General Board of Church and Society, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. She lives in Cary, NC with her soon-to-be-husband Matt and their dog Lucy.