Do you remember those sex ed sessions at school when we all cringed with embarrassment and laughed at the teacher to hide it? Did they demonstrate how to put a condom on a banana and show you peculiar drawings of your complicated innards? Do you remember your first time? Did you have the information at your fingertips (!) to ensure that you didn’t get pregnant?
I am so pleased that my first boyfriend and I had that knowledge. I didn’t marry him, he wasn’t ‘the one’ and I wasn’t tied to him for the rest of my life by shared children or abandoned by him to single parenthood. Instead I had the luxury of time, time to grow up, time to find out a little bit more about myself and the world before I became a mother. Time to finish my studies and achieve a qualification that ensures I can support myself and my children if I need to. Time to meet my lovely Mr Thinly Spread and time to get to know each other well before the madness and mayhem of parenthood. Time to forge a relationship that has withstood 24 years and has brought us four children at a time when we were ready for them and could support them.
Over 200 million women worldwide have no access to contraception. Can you imagine not having control over your fertility?
My daughter is 12. This image makes me gasp and weep. Gorma is 9 months pregnant in this photo, she was 12 when she got pregnant.
Image courtesy of Save the Children
Why am I telling you this?
There is a conference in London tomorrow, hosted by DfID and the Gates Foundation both of whom I worked with and wrote for during last year’s Pass It On Campaign. This time the conference is all about contraception and family planning and offers us a chance to extend a helping hand to women around the world who do not have the benefit of sex education and freely available contraception. Women and girls who have little control over their own fertility, women who are pregnant when they don’t want to be, girls who are dying in pregnancy and childbirth because their bodies are not ready for babies, women who are unable to space their pregnancies so that their families have a better chance at life. Women like you and me, girls like your daughters/sisters/nieces and mine
Please watch this video and then read on to see how you can help.
Last night I attended a dinner, organised by Save the Children and hosted by The Guardian’s Zoe Williams, ahead of the summit tomorrow. I listened to 17 year old Aselefe from Ethiopia whose best friend was deserted by her boyfriend and then thrown out by her family when she fell pregnant. Aselefe’s friend has disappeared. Aselefe is now a peer educator helping other young women to learn about family planning and contraception.
I also listened to Aselefe’s interpreter, project worker Bethel, tell the story of a young girl whose mother threatened to throw her out when she started menstruating. Her mother thought her daughter had been having sex because she herself had married so young that when her periods did start she thought they were as a result of having intercourse. She had no idea about the workings of her own body or her daughter’s.
So, what can we do to stand shoulder to shoulder with women and girls around the world?
The family planning summit, backed by the Gates Foundation, UNFPA, charities, campaigners and attended by governments from across the globe, is a chance to make a real change in the lives of millions of women which would have knock on effects in whole communities and nations.
Tweet David Cameron and Number 10 directly with this: All women should have power to decide when & how many children they have. @number10gov pls #givegirlspower at #fpsummit Lives depend on it.
We are hoping to whip up a twitter storm at 11 o’clock tomorrow morning for ten minutes because, as we found with the #passiton campaign last year, government ministers sit up and take notice when lots of people shout at the same time. So if you could make sure you tweet then it would be fab.