Rights-based family planning: Collaboration for acceleration

Aminata Bangaé from Burkina Faso holds up a blister pack of contraceptive pills. Expanding access to contraception has never been just about health — it means fundamentally changing the status of women and girls in society by respecting their bodies, minds, aspirations and lives. Photo by: UNFPA / CC BY-NC-ND

Ensuring that 120 million additional women and girls are able to access and use modern contraception, a goal outlined by the Family Planning 2020 global partnership, is about much more than a number.

Women and girls — each with a face, a name, a story and dreams — have the right to define their needs and make decisions about their own sexual and reproductive health, both within and beyond the clinic walls.

In fact, the ability to choose whether, when and how many children to have is essential not only to a woman’s health, but also to the health of her family and community. When women have access to quality family planning and health services, they are more likely to survive childbirth, have healthier children and go further in their education.

Yet expanding access to contraception has never been just about health — it means fundamentally changing the status of women and girls in society by respecting their bodies, minds, aspirations and lives. And this translates into women becoming agents of their own change and ensuring their rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.

Consider Dolena and her husband Mohammed Jakirul, a shy young couple from Dhaka, Bangladesh. Recently married at 17 and 20, respectively, they think it’s too early to have children. “We want to be financially stable and secure first,” Dolena says quietly. That’s why she and her husband opted for a three-year contraceptive implant, which will allow them the time they need, without worry of an unexpected pregnancy.

Steady progress

Dolena’s story illustrates how, no matter where they live, millions of women and girls, as well as men and boys, want the ability to determine for themselves if and when to start a family. But it is also a sharp reminder of how different her story could have been if it were just three years ago, when the government of Bangladesh did not even allow women access to implants if they hadn’t given birth to at least one child.

There is no doubt that we are seeing progress in expanding access, and in ensuring that access includes full, free and informed choice to a wide range of contraceptive options. Bangladesh is one of nearly 40 countries that through the FP2020 partnership has made a commitment to expand access to voluntary contraception for women and girls in the world’s poorest countries.

And, today, more women and girls are using modern contraceptives than ever before. This is an incredible accomplishment, but we have a lot more work to do — too many millions of women and girls are still out of reach, still waiting for services, respect, and a feeling of peace and security in their own lives.

Accelerate towards the future

We have both the opportunity and obligation to accelerate our progress by putting an individual’s rights at the center — and making sure they stay there. However, this must be a collective, concerted effort by governments, health care providers, communities, and clients.

Since the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning, a broad array of partners have collaborated to develop frameworks to articulate what a rights-based approach entails, design tools and trainings to help create rights-based programs, and now to roll out these tools as a way of engaging diverse stakeholders, measuring their impact, and ultimately holding our governments and ourselves accountable.

Buoyed by the momentum out of last week’s International Conference of Family Planning, let’s renew our promise to coordinate across donors, partners, and implementers and make rights-based family planning a reality for the millions of women and girls who are relying on us to get this right.

Now is the time to strengthen sexual and reproductive health and rights — both as a means and as an end.

To help make rights a reality:

• Invest in data collection and use to track and measure the extent to which rights are incorporated into existing and new programs and to better understand who is not being reached.

• Strengthen country ownership and advocate for allocation of adequate funds to support rights-based family planning programs. It is the right thing to do, and it is the smart thing to do.

• Because we are committed to advancing the principles of rights and empowerment in family planning, we use a variety of tools offered by FP2020, EngenderHealth, and summarized in this resource guide.

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About the authors

  • Beth schlachter headshot

    Beth Schlachter

    As executive director, Beth Schlachter works to monitor and report on global and country progress in meeting FP2020 goals. Beth joined FP2020 in 2014 with more than 15 years of experience as a career foreign affairs officer working for the U.S. government in multilateral and bilateral contexts. She served most recently as the senior population policy advisor in the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration at the U.S. Department of State. In this capacity she coordinated the U.S. government’s participation in the global 20-year review of the International Conference on Population and Development and served as a lead negotiating delegate at various sessions of the U.N. Commission on Population and Development and the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.
  • Asfaw

    Yetnayet Asfaw

    Dr. Yetnayet Asfaw is vice president for strategy and impact at EngenderHealth. She has more than 15 years of global reproductive health experience in her native country of Ethiopia. Until recently, Asfaw was EngenderHealth’s Ethiopia country director where she oversaw highly successful programs in the country. In previous positions, she led and managed diverse health and development programs, major health projects funded by USAID and private donors. She previously consulted for the government of Ethiopia, the World Bank, World Health Organization, and the United Nations Children’s Fund in Ethiopia.