Population Matters

International Women’s Day 2018: #PressforProgress

International Women’s Day 2018: #PressforProgress

Every year on 8 March we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD). This day is a commemoration of the women’s rights movement and an opportunity to celebrate achievements and those who work relentlessly to make gender equality a reality. It is also a call-to-action.

This year’s IWD campaign theme, #PressforProgress is a call to press forward and progress gender parity further by building on the momentum created by the many impactful initiatives that have emerged globally, such as She Decides or MeToo. This is imperative for the road ahead is still long.  

Women Carrying Water
IWD supports equal rights

200 years to gender equality?

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, we are over 200 years away from gender equality. So although progress has been made in many areas, women continue to suffer forms of discrimination in many countries across the globe; from child and early marriage, forced marriage, gender-based violence, as well as barriers to participation in education and employment.

We are still far from equality and threats are constant. For example the Global Gag Rule not only freezes funding to aid organisations providing family planning services globally, but it also causes a ‘chilling effect’ on advocacy for safe abortion and post-abortion services, actively contributing to the emergence of more regressive mentalities and policies.

Rural and urban activism

In support of this year’s call-to-action, the United Nations launched its official IWD theme, Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives, to empower women in all settings, rural and urban. This draws attention to the power of activism but also particularly to the rights and activism of rural women. These represent over a quarter of the world population but are often left behind. According to the UN, rural women are worse off than rural men or urban women. While the global pay gap between men and women stand at 23 per cent, in rural areas, it can be as high as 40 per cent. They lack infrastructure and services, decent work and social protection, and are left more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

This is particularly important to fight the widening gap in access to sexual and reproductive health care the UNFPA reported last year, and the US funding cuts to family planning services that affect women in rural areas most. Supporting women’s rights has never been more important, or strategic.

Women’s rights are human rights

When given the rights and means, women chose smaller families

Women’s rights and gender equality are central to building a fairer, more sustainable society. There is much evidence to suggest that empowerment and education of women in all parts of the world would help with poverty reduction, effective distribution of resources – whether food, healthcare, or education – improved family planning and the mitigation of climate change. The evidence also shows that when given the choice, women tend to chose to have smaller families and when given access to contraception, they use it.

Supporting women’s rights means actively building a fairer, more sustainable society. You can read more about women’s rights here.

Take action

Women’s empowerment and gender equality are essential for sexual and reproductive health, economic development, population stabilization and mitigating climate change. We therefore support women’s rights and programmes to improve the status of women.

To learn more about how to support women’s rights, visit here. You can also join the IWD network #PressforProgress campaign that has activities that extend beyond the single day of 8 March.

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Global Gag Rule – one year on

A year ago, US President Trump reinstated and expanded the Mexico City Policy. This lead to major funding cuts to family planning services globally. A year on, the effects are starting to be seen. As feared, the most vulnerable communities and countries, those for whom family planning saved lives and helped lift people out of poverty, are most affected.

US President Trump

The Mexico City Policy, also known as the Global Gag Rule, is a US government policy that blocks US federal funding for non-governmental organisations that provide abortions or abortion-related services. The expansion of the rule means the cuts do not only affect family planning organisations, but any aid organisation that may mention abortion.

The effects

After the announcement a year ago, Marie Stopes International (MSI) and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), two major international charities that provide family planning to millions across the globe, announced that they would not longer accept US aid money. The US then announced it was cutting its funds to the UN’s Population Fund (UNFPA).

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the cuts have affected a total of 1,275 NGOs and $2.2 billion of funding.

MSI estimate that if they cannot close the funding gap, over 2 million women will loose access to the contraception services which they provided, leading to an additional:

  • 2.5 million unintended pregnancies
  • 870,000 unsafe abortions
  • 6,900 avoidable maternal deaths
  • £107m increase in direct healthcare costs

A year on, for many organisations, women and countries, the concerns are becoming reality.

Africa worst hit

Nigerian mother

Of all the regions affected by the global gag rule, Africa is worst hit.

In Zimbabwe, the Population Services Zimbabwe (PSZ), a local branch of MSI, was responsible for distributing more than half the long-term contraceptives available through the public sector and had 1,200 clinics. After the cuts, PSZ managed to keep running but in September 2017 they ran out of cash and had to close 600, or half, of their clinics. MSI estimates that by the end of Trump’s first term, there will have been 110,000 unintended pregnancies and 32,000 unsafe abortions in Zimbabwe alone.

In Nigeria, MSI estimates they could have prevented 2 million unwanted pregnancies and 10,000 maternal deaths. Clinics in the north of the country near Boko Haram refugee camps have seen their funding cut, despite having nothing to do with abortions, because they were supported by the UNFPA. In 2013, the Nigerian government was responsible for 10% of costs for contraceptives, now in 2018 for 36%, making it impossible for them to reach the target. Nigeria’s population is growing so fast that the country is forecast to overtake the US and be the third most populous country in the world by 2050.

In Kenya, the local branch of the IPPF, which used to reach 76,000 women a year have now had to close their clinic in Mombasa. In Mozambique, the IPPF’s member organisation lost 60% of its funding. As a result they’ve lost half of their staff, 650 peer educators and have closed 18 youth friendly clinics. Botswana lost 60% of its funding and Swasiland has lost half of its funding, serving now only four out of the 14towns they use to reach before the cuts. The effects are felt throughout Africa.

A way forward: reframing family planning

For family planning organisations it is now clear that to survive and develop resilience to such tsunami cuts, they need to diversify their sources of funding. This requires a reframing of family planning as not just about Public Health but about development and return on investment. The benefits of women having control over their own fertility are multiple.

In support of this, this year’s International Family Planning Conference 12-15 November 2018 supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, will focus on the return on investment that family planning offers to include education and empowerment, economic growth and environmental health.

As an organisation that campaigns to raise awareness of the benefits of smaller families for people and planet, we welcome such a reframing and look forward to the outcomes of the conference.

Taking action

Population Matters is one of more than 230 organisations worldwide to support a statement backing the SheDecides initiative. We have also joined more than 400 development, social justice, women’s rights and family planning organisations in signing a joint statement condemning the reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule. Please join the campaign to defend family planning.

On Wednesday 28 February, Population Matters attended a SheDecides event at parliament – one of many taking place for SheDecidesDay on 2 March. The event was chaired by Gareth Thomas MP, and had contributions from Baroness Jenny Tonge, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Population and Development, Alvaro Bermejo, Director General of IPPF and Marjorie Newman-Williams, Vice President and Director of External Affairs of MSI. Ana Paz, a London-based spoken word artist, presented the SheDecides Manifesto – which you can read and sign here in support. 

Key points were 

  • The importance of access to contraception – because evidence shows that when women have access to contraception, they use it
  • The ‘chilling effect’ – how the global gag rule causes a general silencing on abortion and abortion policy, which affects basic women’s right, which are human rights
  • How such cuts break trust with the patients – for IPPF this was the greatest harm caused by the Global Gag Rule
  • All were clear that the main thing you can do to help is to write to your MP to ask them to support SheDecides – the IPPF will provide a template letter which we will be sharing

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UK Sustainable Population Policy needed now – not in 25 years

Population Matters director Robin Maynard has written to the Secretary of State for the Environment and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, to urge him to address population pressures on the UK environment. In a submission in response to the 25 year environmental plan, A Green Future, which the UK government announced earlier this month, Population Matters notes that while the Plan acknowledges population growth’s impact on the planet, it fails to consider its contribution to environmental problems in the UK or propose solutions.

United KingdomCommendable but compromised

In his letter, Robin Maynard welcomes the government’s overarching objective, that “ours can become the first generation to leave that environment in a better state than we found it and pass on to the next generation a natural environment protected and enhanced for the future”.

He goes on, however;

“We welcome the government’s renewed energy on environmental issues since your appointment and commend the plan’s ambitions. We consider the plan to be flawed, however, by its failure to address one of the key drivers of the UK’s environmental problems: unsustainable population levels and continued population growth. We hope that as the government puts flesh on the bones of this plan, it will also integrate effective and appropriate policy measures accordingly.  We also urge the government to introduce an overarching strategy across all relevant departments to address population in the UK.”

A Sustainable Population Policy

The submission calls for an overarching strategic and ethical population policy in the UK to meet the aspirations of A Green Future and the other issues arising from population pressure, including multiple social and economic problems, and greater pressure on infrastructure, public services and even social cohesion.

The key points put forward in the submission are:

  1. Population growth is not a predetermined fact – ethically acceptable, non-coercive ways to manage population for sustainable ends exist and include education, family planning provision, migration policy and incentivisation of smaller families
  2. The UK’s environmental footprint is already too heavy – it consumes nearly 3 planet’s worth of resources
  3. The most effective ‘possible action’ for curbing climate change, population is being ignored – enabling and encouraging people to have smaller families and fewer children is an essential component of a climate change strategy, and especially important in high consumer nations like the UK
  4. Water scarcity, which is a real issue in the UK, particularly for England – is a result of demand, a direct factor of numbers of consumers
  5. The urgent need to act and think nationally and globally – enabling women the right and means to choose how many children they conceive is critical for enabling sustainable economic development and delivering effective and significant environmental goods
A million households in the UK are overcrowded
A million households in the UK are overcrowded

The submission concludes that the UK needs a Sustainable Population Policy now – not in 25 years.

The submission has also been sent to other Westminster politicians.

Take action

You can ask the government to adopt a Sustainable Population Policy by contacting Michael Gove at Defra via this webform.

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Imams support family planning in Senegal

Public health officials and NGOs in Senegal turn to mosques to expand the provision of family planning, The Christian Science Monitor reports. A key first step, results indicate. 

Senegal is over 90% Muslim and has a fertility rate of 4.8, nearly double the global average. It has one of the lowest rates of contraceptive use in the world. Only half of the married women who would like to use modern contraception are able to. Access to contraceptives is limited, as is the knowledge of how to use them.

Since 2011, the number of married Senegalese women using modern contraceptives has doubled from 12 per cent to about 23 per cent, according to the Senegalese statistics and demography agency. Religion is not the only factor influencing contraceptive use, but gaining support from religious leaders has proven vital, public health officials and NGOs explain.

“Any time we come to a town, the first thing we do is go to a religious leader to explain what we are doing, so that they can become our link with the population,” says Michèle Diop Niang, program director for Marie Stopes International Senegal, a family planning NGO. “It’s very important because where we work, if people don’t have the support of a religious leader, they won’t use family planning at all.”

Modern methods for old practices

The notion that modern contraception is a continuation of traditional Islamic practices has been key. It is based on several passages from the Quran that instruct women to breastfeed for at least two years – a natural, albeit imperfect, form of birth control.

“Family planning is just a new word for what we have always done according to Islam,” says Seyni Cisse, an imam in the southern city of Ziguinchor.

A major turning point was five years ago when an influential imam almost lost one of his wives to childbirth. The midwife told them that they had to stop having children or else she could die. Spacing births makes mothers stronger, reducing the number of child and maternal deaths.

Many Islamic leaders continue to oppose contraceptive use and others who do support it are clear it only concerns married women in monogamous relationships. Read more on population and religion here.

The African challenge

Africa is where the greatest population growth will take place over the next century. While fertility rates are dropping across sub-Saharan Africa, they are not falling consistently. In addition to problems of access to family planning and cultural or religious opposition to contraception, in some parts of Africa, desire for a large family remains a strong influencing factor.

Creative family planning approaches are having success in addressing these problems but the very high proportion of young people in Africa in comparison to other parts of the world means far more people there are of childbearing age, counterbalancing the falls in fertility per person.

Take Action

Among the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which were adopted in September 2015, is Target 3.7: “By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes.”

Access to family planning services is fundamental to slowing and reversing unsustainable population growth. Join our campaign for increased overseas aid for family planning today.

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Philippines’ President Duterte battles for family planning

Failure to remove a court order restricting access to birth control is a significant obstacle to family planning in the Philippines, Asia’s most populous country, that is affecting some of the poorest communities in the country. This is the result of ongoing opposition from the Supreme Court and Catholic leadership. Despite this, Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte will continue to push for the ban to be lifted in an effort to reduce child and maternal mortality, and poverty. 

“Birth control is critical for reducing poverty,” Duterte states.

President Rodrigo Duterte

In 2012, after a decade of negotiation, Duterte passed the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health (RPRH) law that guaranteed universal access to birth control (subsidised and/or free for the poor), mandatory sexual education in schools and the provision of reproductive health services in hospitals, including child and mother care.

Yet full implementation has been blocked. In June 2015 the Catholic church challenged the law as unconstitutional on the basis that it violated the country’s abortion laws. The Supreme Court passed a Temporary Restraining Order limiting the types of contraceptives the government can use while congress ordered budget cuts for the provisioning of contraceptives in many communities.

In January 2017 Duterte issued an executive order in an attempt to accelerate services that promote access to contraception instructing that the poorest households of his country should have “zero unmet needs for family planning by 2018.”  In the face of opposition, Duterte also called for greater collaboration with NGOs and the private sector in a bid to meet his country’s demand for family planning.

Desperate need

The increase of unintended pregnancies and abortions in the past 18 months is a likely consequence of these blocks, explains Juan Antoni A. Perez III, director of POPCOM (Filipino Commission on Population who aims to empower Filipino families). Filipino women are faced with increasing numbers of unintended pregnancies and induced abortions says POPCOM Executive Director Dr. Juan Antonio A. Perez III.

Currently 6 million Filipina lack access to family planning, and of these 2 million live in poverty. More than half of pregnancies in the Philippines are unintended and 90% of these occurred in the absence of birth control. Only the wealthy and middle class have access to contraception and abortion remains illegal.

“Family planning is very important in the Philippines because mothers have five, six, sometimes 13 babies” says Jean Paul Domingo, registered nurse at a Manila maternity ward.

In addition to helping alleviate poverty, RPRH remains the strongest defence against abortion says POPCOM director Juan Antoni A. Perez III.

Taking action

Population Matters’ family planning funding project, PopOffsets has given support to local family planning projects in Manila.

Population Matters believe that access to family planning services is fundamental to slowing and reversing unsustainable population growth. Worldwide, funding for family planning from foreign aid has been hit hard by the imposition of the ‘global gag rule’ by the Trump administration in January 2017. Find out more, and how you can help.

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PM research shows traffic congestion costs to soar

New analysis released by Population Matters estimates England will face total annual costs of £23.8 billion by 2030 as a result of road and rail congestion caused by surging population. This would mark a 58.7 per cent increase over the £15bn figure for 2015, costing the economy an extra £8.8 billion annually.

The original research commissioned by Population Matters, and featured in an exclusive report in The Times newspaper today, uses statistical data and analytical reports from the UK’s Department for Transport and the latest population projections by the Office of National Statistics to calculate the effect on road and rail traffic. It shows that England’s projected population growth of 10 per cent by 2030 will have a far bigger impact on road and rail congestion than the percentage increase alone suggests.

Among the conclusions of the research are that by 2030:

  • the cost of traffic congestion per household could increase by 40 per cent, translating to a total of £2,100 per year
  • average lateness as a result of rail traffic could increase nationally by 48.2 per cent, and by 103.4 per cent in London
  • road users could waste more than 12 hours per year more – a total of 136 hours – than in 2015 on average, because of traffic congestion
  • number of cars on England’s roads could increase by 20 per cent to 31 million.

The Times‘ environment editor Ben Webster published an exclusive report based on our research, entitled Population boom ‘could bring nation to standstill’

To accompany its report, The Times also published an article by Population Matters patron Chris Packham reacting to the figures and highlighting how human population growth is affecting the natural world in the UK and across the world. In the piece, Chris writes:

“Our natural world is in competition with the unnatural world we create — and it is losing badly. This destructive competition will continue as long as human numbers are growing.

“In the UK we already have the choice of how many children we have. If we want them to enjoy the natural world — to have a thriving, supportive natural world they will need to survive — we have to recognise that the more of them we have, the more difficult it will be for them to do that. We all need breathing room: animals, plants, human beings. We shouldn’t have to compete for it, and we don’t have to.”

(Note: The Times operates behind a paywall and the articles will only be fully visible to subscribers. You can read Chris Packham’s article on our website here.)


Further information about the research and its findings can be found here.

Because rail and road statistics for the entire United Kingdom are compiled separately across devolved administrations, the research focuses on population growth in England but its principle conclusion – that population growth can have far greater effects on congestion than  numbers suggest – applies across the UK. To produce the most effective projections using available data and statistical techniques, the road traffic analysis reflects urban and national “strategic” roads only: the effects of minor road congestion will add additional time and cost. The calculations are based on a number of calculations and assumptions and the results provided are not predictions.

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Family planning under siege?

An intra-uterine device.

A coalition of medical professionals and advocacy groups in the UK has warned that access to contraception is being hit by cuts in funding for public health.

Worldwide, the provision of contraceptive supplies in developing countries is facing a funding shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars of international aid. Family planning is also thought by many to be at risk from an incoming administration in the US which is hostile to abortion and sceptical about the value of overseas aid. 

The Advisory Group on Contraception says a third of councils in England have cut, or is considering cutting the number of GP practices able to provide methods such as coils and implants and that a quarter of councils have shut or may close some of their contraceptive services.

Contraceptive services are normally financed by local councils but a cut of £200 million in central government funding to councils for public health in 2015/16 has led to a reduction in services available. Further finance cuts are scheduled up until 2021.

Campaigners have warned that the changes risk an increase in unwanted pregnancies and abortions.

The global picture

In September, a global coalition of family planning organisations warned that a shortfall of $850 million in funding by 2020 for UNFPA Supplies, the largest global fund dedicated to contraceptive supplies for family planning, could “derail” progress towards meeting Sustainable Development Goals. The funding is needed to help meet the goal of the global FP2020 to provide access to contraception for 120 million more women than in 2012 by 2020. FP2020 has currently delivered services to 30 million women but is not on target to meet its goals.

The UK is one of the most generous supporters of family planning through overseas aid but the USA is the greatest donor, currently providing $600 million annually in aid to support reproductive rights.

During his election campaign, President-elect Donald Trump spoke out against abortion and Vice-President-elect Mike Pence has a very strong anti-abortion record in Congress and as governor of Indiana. Concerns have been raised by family planning campaigners that the US may not continue to support overseas aid at the same level under Mr Trump for and that reproductive services may be particularly hard-hit.

Until President Obama reversed the policy in 2009, US aid was not permitted to be given to agencies that provided abortion or information about it. Domestically, concerns over the incoming administration led President Obama to take moves in November to permanently protect funding for abortion and family planning inside the US.

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Boris Johnson: women’s rights address “population boom”

teen_girlIn a major policy speech, Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Boris Johnson, has highlighted the problems caused by growing population and the impact that foreign aid can have in preventing it.

Mr Johnson’s comments were made in the course of a speech to the prestigious British foreign affairs think tank, Chatham House. Referring to the significant threats to the survival of the African elephant, he noted that that the population of Africa is now nearing 1 billion people, and doubling every 20 to 25 years in some African countries. As Mr Johnson put it, “the massive growth in [human] population . . . means a contest for resources that an elephant is never going to win.”

Mr Johnson described population growth as “another of those things that we thought had got better … 20 or 25 years ago we thought we were turning the tide”. He went on to describe “one answer” to what he called the “population boom”: work funded by the UK’s Department for International Development to teach girls to read in Pakistan, where two thirds of adult women are illiterate.

“It is about giving them the chance to take control of their lives. All evidence confirms that wherever women are empowered and educated there are immediate improvements in the prosperity of that society and the stabilisation of the birth rate.

s216_borisjohnson“And with the world now likely to hit 11 bn people by 2050 – not 9 bn as we thought a decade or so ago, but 11 bn people – that British mission to educate young women and girls, to save them from the evil of modern slavery, to uphold our belief in equality wherever we go is as profoundly in our interests as it is of girls in the developing world.”

Population Matters recently participated in a productive meeting at the UK Department for International Development to discuss the role of family planning and limiting population growth in reducing poverty.

Note. The UN projects a significant range of possible population figures for 2050 to account for the large range of factors involved. Its current median projection is a population of 9.7 bn but that depends on continued falls in fertility and positive action to achieve them.

Study: hitting Sustainable Development Goals will slash population growth

teen_girl_2Last week, before Mr Johnson made his comments, a study from Shanghai University claimed that achieving the Sustainable Development Goals set for 2030 would mean a global population of between 8.2 and 8.7 billion by 2100, significantly below the UN’s predicted range of 9.5 to 13 billion. The Sustainable Development Goals are a set of agreed global targets for 2030 intended to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure global prosperity.

In a similiar vein to Mr Johnson, one of the study’s authors noted that

“The key factors are the effects of increasing female education on lowering birth rates in developing countries, and the health target that includes universal access to reproductive health services.

“In general we find that if the international community fails to reach the SDGs then growth will be higher, people will be poorer and in worse health, and this larger world population will be more vulnerable to environmental change.”

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Net migration holds steady in UK

crowdEstimates released by the UK’s Office of National Statistics today show that 650,000 people immigrated into the country in the year up to June 2016 and 315,000 left , making the total net migration figure 335,000. The figure is almost exactly the same as the previous year, 336,000.

284,000 EU citizens immigrated to the UK (the highest estimate recorded) and 289,000 non-EU citizens. Of those leaving, approximately 127,000 are estimated to be British, 95,000 EU and 83,000 non-EU.

Nicola White, Head of International Migration Statistics at the ONS said:

“Net migration remains around record levels, but it is stable compared with recent years. Immigration levels are now among the highest estimates recorded – the inflow of EU citizens is also at historically high levels and similar to the inflow of non-EU citizens; there were also increases in the number of asylum seekers and refugees. Immigration of Bulgarian and Romanian citizens continues the upward trend seen over the last few years and in 2015 Romania was the most common country of previous residence. The main reason people are coming to the UK is for work, and there has been a significant increase in people looking for work particularly from the EU.”

163,000 people immigrated to study for more than one year. In the year ending in September 2016, there were a little over 41,000 asylum applications and 4,126 people were “granted humanitarian protection under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme” (4,414 in total since the scheme began in January 2014).

In a statement to the media, Population Matters said:

“More people means more pressure on everything, from buses to butterflies. Our birth rate in the UK is higher than most EU countries and net migration in addition means a national challenge of simple numbers. Currently, twice as many people are born in the UK than increase our population through immigration – we need to start facing up to the challenges posed by both of those factors.

“There’s a global environmental challenge too. By default, people emigrating in pursuit of a better life usually end up consuming more and producing more carbon emissions – the same is true of British emigrants, most of whom end up in places such as the US and Australia. Economic development where it’s needed, lower consumption where it isn’t and having smaller families everywhere will reduce the pressures that drive migration and will give our country and our planet some breathing room.”

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30 million more women accessing contraception than in 2012

young_motherThe FP2020 international family planning initiative has released its fourth annual progress report. The global programme seeks to have 120 million more women able to access modern contraception than in 2012.

Now half way through the programme, the picture is mixed. 30 million more women accessing contraception is a significant achievement and globally, more than 300 million women in the world’s poorest countries are now using modern contraception for the first time. However, the 30 million figure is below the target set for this stage of the programme and there are now fears that it may not reach its ultimate goal.

FP2020 seeks to boost family planning through increasing access, improving service, expanding choice, and reducing the barriers to contraceptive use in 69 focus countries. The report highlights, however, that there is a significant funding gap, with aid from developed countries failing to meet the resource needs required.

Donor governments provided US$1.3 billion for bilateral family planning in 2015 but this marked a drop of 6% on previous years’ funding.

Despite this, a number of countries – such as Kenya – are meeting their targets, although the report notes hat there may still be significant disparities in access within countries. At a recent meeting attended by Population Matters to discuss the challenges of getting contraception to women in developing countries, the problem of the “last mile” – actually getting resources in a country into the hands of the women who need them – was identified as one of the problems still to be overcome in some places.

FP2020’s executive director Beth Schlachter said:

“We have the opportunity and the obligation to reach the hardest to reach, including young people, the poorest, the marginalized and the most vulnerable, and to ensure that all programs and policies are grounded in the principles of agency, access, availability, and quality of care. Only by working in this way will we reach our collective goal.”

200 million women worldwide still have an unmet need for contraception.

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