Climate change is creating uncertainty around family planning and reproductive health choices for women in Senegal. Remote fishing villages along the coastal estuaries in recent years have been deluged by floods, forcing many families to give up their livelihoods and homes.
The relocation of women and children has put strain on reproductive health services elsewhere. But, the majority of women who have relocated will have to go without adequate contraception, risking unwanted pregnancies, and placing further strain on their families.
Often women will relocate to other rural areas, but having lost property and possessions to floods, they are frequently destitute.
The Senegal country director for MSI Reproductive Choices - Salimata Cisse, spoke to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, about the situation in Senegal – a snapshot of a much wider global issue.
Across the globe 26 million people have been displaced by climate change, losing livelihoods and access to health care services. This uncertainty means women are at an increased risk of abuse, exploitation, and sexual violence – all situations that increase their chances of becoming pregnant against their wishes.
Women are key providers to many in the community, not just their own families, unintended pregnancies place considerable pressure on family networks and have wider financial and social impacts. Women Deliver explores the impact climate change will have on women’s health and rights and what can be done to improve the situation.
Reproductive and sexual health in Senegal – snapshot of the country
According to the Guttmacher institute, currently, some 31% of pregnancies in Senegal are unintended, but if contraception was easily available to meet the needs of women, unintended pregnancies would drop by 89% and new-born deaths would drop by 77%.
It is not uncommon for women to risk their lives to access illegal abortions. Despite the country’s highly restrictive abortion law, an estimated 51,500 induced abortions occurred in Senegal in 2012. Sadly, virtually all of these procedures were underground and unsafe.
Most abortions in Senegal are performed, almost two-thirds (63%) are performed by untrained individuals, such a traditional healers or other women in the community and are considered to be very high risk.
Women who are rural and poor, experience more abortion-related complications than their urban-dwelling counterparts, with almost three quarters of rural women experiencing complications requiring medical treatment after an unsafe abortion.
Presently, long acting contraceptives (Condoms: 3% Pill/patch/ring: 9% Injectables: 20% IUDs/implants: 21%) are the most frequently used among women in Senegal, but 43% of women still do not have access to contraceptives.
The ministry of health needs to invest in safe contraceptives and family planning for the women of Senegal, this initial investment not only saves lives but also is cost effective. The Guttmacher institute estimates that: “Contraception yields cost savings by reducing unintended pregnancies: In Senegal, every $1 spent on contraceptive services beyond the current level would save $2.63 in the cost of maternal, newborn and abortion care.”
Increasing access to contraception to stop climate change
Sexual health services have been attributed to combatting climate change is not a new idea, an editorial in The Lancet 12 years ago highlighted that: “increasing availability of family planning, saw an immediate improvement to the environment with better agricultural practices.” Also “that family planning is five times cheaper than conventional green technologies to combat climate change.”
Reducing family size, securing women’s rights and increasing education levels for women and girls will be key to combatting climate change and reducing harmful environmental practices in the future. But for the moment investing in reproductive health services in rural areas to help those displaced by climate change is the first step in the circle.
Guttmacher Institute (2015) Abortion in Senegal. https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/abortion-senegal [accessed 17/08/2021].
Sully EA et al., Adding It Up: Investing in Sexual and Reproductive Health 2019, New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2020. https://www.guttmacher.org/geography/africa/senegal
Women Deliver (2021) The link between climate change and sexual and reproductive health and rights: an evidence review. January 2021 https://womendeliver.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Climate-Change-Report.pdf