By Sandy Deneau Dunham
PLU Marketing & Communications
TACOMA, Wash. (Sept. 22, 2015)—Ariel Wood ’17, an International Honors student majoring in French and Global Studies at Pacific Lutheran University, is one of three national winners of the first-ever Why We Care Youth: Emerging Leaders for Reproductive Rights contest.
Winning entries were chosen in three categories: short video, photo essay and written essay. Wood, from Bellingham, Wash., won the video category of the contest, founded by The United Nations Foundation’s Universal Access Project in partnership with Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Sierra Club.
The three winners now will have the opportunity to share their stories and learn more about reproductive health and global development during an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City during the U.N. General Assembly the weekend of Sept. 26-27.
“I am honored to have been chosen for this incredible opportunity,” Wood said. “During this trip, I will attend the Social Good Summit, where I will explore the intersection between global initiatives and technology with many renowned international leaders and activists. I’m also going to be featured on the U.N. Foundation website and recognized as a Why We Care Youth Champion.”
Why We Care Youth serves as a platform for young people nationwide, ages 18-25, to raise their voices and spark change globally. To enter, emerging young leaders shared powerful personal stories about what access to reproductive health and contraception has meant in their own lives, and why U.S. policymakers should care about expanding access around the world.
“The contest aligned exactly with the research I had been doing this summer in preparation for being an RA in Harstad (Hall), our women’s empowerment and gender-equity residence hall,” said Wood. “I decided to enter the contest with the idea that powerful themes can be widely spread through simple words and relatable stories. Women in the workforce, in higher education and in pursuit of their dreams can directly relate to my message: Without reproductive healthcare, I wouldn’t be in control of my life and future success. I hope my video influences others to reflect on how reproductive health has affected their lives, and ultimately sparks a larger discussion around sexual and reproductive health rights as human rights.”
Wood opens her winning video by filling in “225 million” on a whiteboard with a red marker. “Two-hundred-and-twenty-five million,” she says. “Does that number mean anything to you?” She continues to illustrate her story—she is living her dream by studying and traveling the world—as she tells it.
“There are over 225 million girls and women globally who may never get to pursue their dreams like I have, all because of a problem of access … to reproductive healthcare,” she says in the video. “For many, it means a woman’s full potential is never reached.”
According to the Universal Access Project website, 225 million girls and women worldwide want to avoid or delay pregnancy but face barriers or lack access to effective contraceptives. In addition, the website says:
- Many women become vulnerable to unplanned pregnancy, which increases their risk of dying from pregnancy-related complications—and seeing their children die as well, often from malnutrition.
- Every day, approximately 800 girls and women die from pregnancy-related causes.
- One-third of girls in the developing world are married before age 18, and one-fifth become pregnant before 18.
- When girls give birth before their bodies are ready, not only are they more likely to drop out of school and earn a lower income, but they also are at a much higher risk of dying.
- Complications from pregnancy and childbirth continue to be a leading cause of death of girls in the developing world.
It’s an issue with global implications—Universal Access Project says allowing women to choose whether, when and how many children to have helps break the cycle of poverty, and puts families, communities and countries on a stronger, more prosperous and sustainable path—and personal ones.
“I eagerly welcome further discussion around the theme of universal access in my life, and at PLU,” said Wood, who hopes to work for an NGO in development, women’s rights, education and/or climate change. “I imagine this weekend is going to be a defining moment in my life.”