The London Summit on Family Planning, which took place a year ago this month, kicked off a potentially new era for international family planning (FP). By focusing renewed attention, rallying political commitment, and garnering a substantial increase in pledged funding to support services, it raised FP on the global health and development agenda. The London Summit also reinvigorated the focus on human rights in FP programs, which coalesced in part around the concern that human rights could be sacrificed in the pursuit of the numerical goal of reaching 120 million new women and girls in the world’s poorest countries with FP information, services, and supplies by 2020 (known as FP2020). Attention to these issues has also been fueled by preparations to formulate the post-2015 development agenda that will follow the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Since the London Summit, there has been a distinct spike in activity around rights and FP within the global community:
- Two months after the London Summit, the RESPOND Project, funded by USAID and led by EngenderHealth, sponsored a high-level consultation (A Fine Balance: Contraceptive Choice in the 21st Century) that tackled questions of contraceptive method options, informed choice, coercion, and barriers to access, all fundamental to ensuring rights in FP programs. At the meeting, FP program and rights experts from 11 countries set aside their sometimes differing perspectives to find common ground and forge a way forward, generating a 6-Point Action Agenda.
- A small team of international FP and human rights experts were funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to conduct a literature review and tools search and write a paper on voluntary FP. This team documented the human rights pertaining to health, including FP; highlighted challenges and controversies at the intersection of human rights, public health, and FP programs; and developed the ground-breaking Voluntary Family Planning Programs that Respect, Protect, and Fulfill Human Rights: A Conceptual Framework, which merges public health, rights, and program perspectives.
- The WHO organized a technical consultation in April 2013 (Ensuring and Monitoring Rights, Equity, Choice, and Quality in Family Planning Programmes) at which participants reviewed a draft of the now-finalized rights-based framework, considered indicators for monitoring rights in FP programs, and formulated evidence-based programmatic guidelines and recommendations.
- The Rights and Empowerment Working Group and Performance Monitoring & Accountability (PM&A) Working Group were formed as part of the architecture of the FP2020 initiative and are getting their work underway. Both the Gates Foundation-funded group and the PM&A Working Group are working on indicators for monitoring rights.
- The government of the Netherlands, UNFPA, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) co-hosted the recent ICPD Review International Conference on Human Rights from July 7-10 in the Netherlands.
As we mark the one year anniversary of the London Summit, the FP and human rights communities have begun building collaborative bridges and a collective momentum for promoting and protecting rights in global FP programs. Combining our energies will engender wider understanding of the importance of rights and contraceptive choice in FP programs from a more unified human rights and public health perspective. Further, there is growing political will, expert guidance, and a framework in place that maps out the way forward, and efforts to identify the key components of an accountability framework are underway.
However, so much more needs to be done: We need to enlist more champions at all levels to seize the opportunities before us to make rights a reality in FP programs. We need to expand method options to ensure that women and couples have more contraceptive choice. We need to foster commitment at the country and service delivery levels to achieve equitable access to services for all, including young people and the vulnerable, marginalized, disadvantaged, or hard to reach. We need to more effectively engage with and listen to the voices of those with unmet need for FP, so that programs can truly meet their preferences and needs. And we need to recognize and stamp out coercion both in its subtle and its more overt forms, and remove both deliberate and unintended barriers.
We know the challenges are many, and invite you to join our network of champions for choice and rights in facing them head on!
To kick start the dialogue started, we invite you to share your thoughts and experiences:
- What are the key challenges to realizing rights in FP programs?
- What should FP programs do (or do differently) to better promote and protect clients’ rights and choices?
- What topics related to contraceptive choice and rights would you like to see covered in this blog in the future?
For more background on this blog, click here.