The Pill Turns 50, but Has Yet to Go Global
Social change, freedom, choice, control. Who would have thought a woman could get all that from a tiny, once-a-day pill? On May 9, 1960, when the FDA approved the birth control pill, the role of women in American society changed forever. No longer were women housebound, destined to spend their days in the kitchen and devote their lives to having and raising children. Through increased access to contraceptives, women gained a kind of freedom and control that until then had been coveted but unattainable.
This past weekend women and reproductive health activists all over the country celebrated the 50th anniversary of The Pill. In its honor, Nancy Gibbs wrote an article in TIME Magazine discussing not only the long history of The Pill but also the freedoms it afforded to women. She emphasizes what has become increasingly apparent in the last 50 years: when women gained the ability to choose if and when they had children, a new world of possibilities and opportunities was opened. Able to control their reproductive choices, women could continue their education beyond high school and even enter into the work force. Many people would even go as far as to say that this one tiny pill was essentially what allowed the feminist movement of the 60’s and 70’s to prevail.
In Gibb’s article, she quotes Elaine Tyler May, author of America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril and Liberation, as saying, "The revolutionary potential of the Pill could never have been achieved without the opportunities that came about because of women's activism."
While it is true that the progressive role women hold in American society today certainly could not have been achieved without strong willed revolutionaries like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Gloria Steinem, it would have been just as impossible without the invention and legalization of The Pill. The beauty of The Pill is that not only can a woman limit the number of children she wants to have and decide when to have them, but it puts her, not a man, in direct control of those decisions. She is the one responsible for taking The Pill; she is the one who can choose if she wants to stop taking it.
Today American women are free to choose their path—the events of their adult lives are no longer predetermined for them. While few people would deny that teen pregnancy and unequal pay are still problems Americans face, the lifestyle American women are living today is leaps and bounds away from what is was 50 years ago.
But what about the rest of the world? While Nancy Gibbs and many other American journalists and bloggers are celebrating, more than 200 million women around the world want but lack access to contraceptives. For those of us celebrating, it can be easy to forget that women all over the world are still fighting for their right to access contraceptives, something that has been proven to increase the opportunities in a woman’s life and change the very definition of what it means to do “women’s work”. By denying women access to contraceptives we are denying them access to education, to being employed, to earning money to support their families, to achieving equality, and to being empowered and respected in their societies.
When women are not in control of their reproductive health, they are not in control of their lives. In many cultures they are destined to start bearing children as soon and as often as possible which increases their risk of not finishing school, dying during pregnancy or childbirth, and even contracting HIV.
On this historic day, instead of celebrating by clicking “like” on a Facebook post about The Pill or sending the link to Gibbs’ article to your family and friends, consider taking an action that can help change the lives of women all over the world. Visit Girl2Woman.org, watch the video, and then share it with your friends. For every person you send a video to, $1 will be donated to Pathfinder International to fund programs that work to enhance the lives of girls and women through education about reproductive health and family planning.
How can we fully celebrate the incredible invention of the Pill and all the opportunities it has provided to women when so many women throughout the rest of the world still have not experienced the joys that birth control can bring?