The Road to Implementation: A User’s Guide for Applying a Rights-Based Approach to Family Planning Programs

Guest post by Mariela Rodriguez, Research Associate, Futures Group

Human rights. Contraceptive choice. Access. Information. Empowerment. What do all of these things mean? How do they relate to family planning (FP)? Since the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning and the movement it initiated, FP2020, the topic of human rights and empowerment in FP has risen on the international development agenda. We know that the Summit “underscored the importance of access to contraceptives as both a right and a transformational health and development priority.”[i] But what does this mean in practice? How can FP programs turn rhetoric about rights into a reality?

The recently published Voluntary Family Planning Programs that Respect, Protect and Fulfill Human Rights: a Conceptual Framework Users’ Guide is intended for use in conjunction with the Voluntary Family Planning Programs that Respect, Protect, and Fulfill Human Rights: A Conceptual Framework, published in 2013 by Futures Group and EngenderHealth with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.[ii] The User’s Guide is intended for use by a wide audience spanning policymakers, program managers, health providers, rights advocates, civil society organizations, donors, technical assistance agencies, implementing organizations, and researchers. The document contains three modules to orient stakeholders to the framework and to guide the processes for using it to assess, plan or strengthen, monitor, and evaluate FP programs through a human rights lens.

Published in the wake of the London Summit, the Voluntary Family Planning Programs that Respect, Protect, and Fulfill Human Rights: A Conceptual Framework and User’s Guide offer a practical approach for operationalizing human rights in the design, implementation and evaluation of FP programs. By integrating human rights and related principles within a FP program “logic model,” the framework brings together what have been parallel lines of thought together into one holistic construct using concepts familiar to FP programmers.

As such, the framework serves to guide a pathway to fulfilling FP2020 goals and ensuring government commitments to offer voluntary FP services that respect, protect, and fulfill human rights. After much global attention and positive feedback from stakeholders in India and Kenya, there were many requests for guidance on how to orient stakeholders to and on how to operationalize the conceptual framework on voluntary, rights-based FP in programs.

The User’s Guide:

  • Supports the process of translating the rights-based framework into programmatic action by orienting stakeholders to the human rights and FP concepts underpinning the framework;
  • Offers a pathway for stakeholders to systematically examine the extent to which their program addresses factors at all levels (i.e., policy, service, community, and individual) that contribute to or inhibit fulfillment of the rights of FP clients and potential FP clients;
  • Supports the development of a program action plan to build on program strengths and address weaknesses and gaps identified;
  • Provides guidance on how to monitor and evaluate human rights in FP programs; and finally,
  • Presents tools and mechanisms that can be used to hold FP programs accountable for respecting, protecting and fulfilling individuals’ human rights.

The development of this guide was influenced greatly by country consultations held in India and Kenya; however, this document is currently a beta version. The authors look forward to receiving feedback from program implementers and organizations that “test” the framework through the User’s Guide. Please send feedback or inquiries to Levent Çağatay at or Holly Connor at

If the current momentum and enthusiasm that has gathered around FP and human rights is to have the desired, positive impact on the lives of millions of women and girls around the world, rights must be made explicit in FP program User’s Guide design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation systems and accountability mechanisms With the framework and its companion Users’ Guide, programs now have a practical tool for translating abstract concepts into concrete, programmatic action to advance the progressive realization of human rights in FP programs as service access is expanded through the commitments made under FP2020.

[i] Landmark Summit Puts Women at Heart of Global Health Agenda. Press release: DFID and Gates Foundation. July 11, 2012.

[ii] Hardee, K., Kumar, J., Newman, K., Bakamjian, L. Harris, S., Rodríguez, M., and Brown, W. 2014. Voluntary, Human Rights–Based Family Planning: A Conceptual Framework. Studies in Family Planning Volume 45, Issue 1.

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