The 2017 London Family Planning Summit was held on 11 July, World Population Day, and co-hosted by the UK government, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is the follow-up to the first summit in 2012, where participants committed to ensuring that 120 million more women and girls would have access to family planning by 2020.
A sector under threat
The London Family Planning Summit comes at a time when pressure on reproductive health is high and massive population shifts are underway. The sector is reeling from the loss of financial support and leadership from the world’s largest bilateral funder, the United States. Earlier this year, the Trump administration chose to re-instate and expand the Global Gag policy, blocking funding for health providers around the globe who also provide abortion services. This included a decision to cut all US funds to UNFPA, an agency that promotes family planning in more than 150 countries worldwide.
Population Matters has joined family planning organisations across the world in condemning these decisions as catastrophic for women’s health and reducing population growth. According to the latest data from Guttmacher Institute, 214 million women of reproductive age in developing regions of the world who wish to avoid pregnancy have an unmet need for contraception.
In her address to the summit, the UK’s Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel noted that poverty will not be tackled unless the issue of family planning is addressed. She further added, “If we can give girls and women the chance to own their bodies, they can own their future.”
Increasing global commitments
In light of these challenges, the summit provided an opportunity for a renewed sense of momentum within the family planning sector.
More partners and countries have signed on to the 2020 targets, including one new donor – Canada. Additionally, at least $2.5 billion in new funding commitments for reproductive health services has been raised.
She Decides, a fund that was created in response to Trump’s Global Gag policy, has also raised $300 million in funds for access to birth control, abortion, and women’s sexual health programs in developing nations.
Adopting a holistic approach
A major theme emerging from the summit was the need for new tools and approaches to drive family planning progress, rather than money alone. For instance, providing women and girls with a wider choice of contraceptives is viewed as imperative.
Another important recognition stemming from the summit is of the importance of local leadership across developing nations. Participants recognised that progress will only be made with political and financial commitments from the countries with the greatest need themselves.
Lastly, the importance of incorporating men and boys as part of a family planning approach was also highlighted. This is because they often control access to family planning and are also the users of one of the most in-demand methods of contraception – the male condom.
According to Ugochi Daniels, head of UNFPA’s humanitarian response, the hardest part of ensuring that family planning goals are met is overcoming the barrier of ‘attitudes’, especially among government and community leaders of whom the majority are men.
This also applies to religious and cultural leaders, who were notably absent from the summit. Ugandan health minister Jane Aceng argued that the case for family planning also needs to be made to these leaders in order to ‘bring them on board’, to shift and overcome attitudes which prevent young people thriving and women reaching their full potential.
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