Strengthening the Links Between Human Rights and Family Planning: An Update from Addis

Guest Post by Shannon Harris

There is greater interest and investment in family planning (FP) programs now than in the last 20 years. With this increased attention and funding, programs are also benefiting from an increased commitment to ensuring that vulnerable and hard-to-reach populations are being better served and that women are receiving high-quality services and expanded contraceptive choice. As FP reemerges as a global priority, there is more attention to the human rights that underlie providing contraceptive services to all individuals. The recently published Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) first annual progress report highlights the new Conceptual Framework for Voluntary, Rights-Based Family Planning, a tool designed to ensure that public health programs oriented toward increasing voluntary FP access and use respect, protect, and fulfill human rights in the way they are designed, implemented, and evaluated.

The framework builds on the vast amount of work that has been done in FP over decades to ensure access and quality, to promote gender equity, and to engage communities. Taking a rights-based approach to FP programs places equal importance on attaining human rights outcomes as on achieving FP goals. It includes many of the components of a high-quality FP program; however, it provides an additional dimension through which to examine the extent to which rights are addressed. It makes stakeholders aware of what human rights apply in FP programs and of the factors that can support or hinder the fulfillment of these rights at multiple levels. Rights-based programs explicitly:

  • Increase awareness among policymakers and service providers of their responsibility to respect, protect, and fulfill clients’ rights and strengthen accountability mechanisms for doing so;
  • Heighten awareness among citizens of their entitlement to contraceptive choice and quality services that are accessible and acceptable to them, and empower them to demand these rights;
  • Compel policymakers and program managers to ask themselves who they are not serving, and why, and then to develop strategies for reaching the hard-to-reach and unserved; and
  • Incorporate rights into staff performance expectations and program monitoring indicators and strengthen mechanisms for redress when rights are compromised.

The expected results of this approach include reaching more people and helping them realize better health outcomes. This framework was the basis of a satellite session and a panel hosted by EngenderHealth and the Futures Group at the International Conference on Family Planning, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in November 2013. Participants in the satellite session were introduced to the concepts, principles, and activities of the framework and then were asked to apply the framework in the analysis of case studies. Through this activity, participants said they were able to see how taking a holistic, rights-based approach may lead to identifying different solutions to common problems related to FP access and use.

Satellite session participants brainstormed factors that support and challenge rights in family planning using case studies, then developed interventions to address challenges to rights. Photo by Shannon Harris, 2013.

Satellite session participants brainstormed factors that support and challenge rights in family planning using case studies, then developed interventions to address challenges to rights. Photo by Shannon Harris, 2013.

The panel session also featured two other products of the voluntary, rights-based work: a review of tools and a review of evidence that support rights-based FP. Attendees expressed an interest in seeing more rights-based programming in action. We heard suggestions for complementary pieces of work that will cover other sexual and reproductive health issues in detail as well as a request for guidance in applying the framework and examples of its use. Many participants also expressed the need for new and innovative ways of monitoring rights in FP. A number of groups are working on similar issues, and it seems that a new community of practice in the field of human rights and FP is emerging. Uniting the passion and strength of these diverse groups will propel FP programs forward to providing expanded contraceptive choice and quality services that fulfill human rights.

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