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Women's Health

Family Planning Summit Offers New Hope

PARIS, Jul 10 2012 (IPS) - The Summit on Family Planning that is taking place in London on Wednesday is a bid to get governments around the world to commit more resources to safeguarding women’s reproductive rights, according to the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin told IPS that the meeting aims to provide greater visibility for family planning and to mobilise the political will and extra resources needed to give 120 million more women voluntary access to family planning by 2020.

“We think that the global momentum it will create will be good for women and girls around the world to exercise their right to plan their lives,” he said in a telephone interview. “We believe it’s long overdue.”

The UNFPA has joined with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the United Kingdom government and other partners to co-host the summit and to work towards this goal, Osotimehin said.

The summit comes in the wake of the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development where women’s groups expressed disappointment with the final document. Many such groups will be keen to hear a different message in London.

According to UN figures, there are some 222 million women in mainly developing countries who would like greater access to family planning tools, but are not being served for a variety of reasons including cultural norms and lack of human and financial assets.

The UNFPA estimates that 4.1 billion dollars are still needed every year to fully meet the need for modern contraceptive methods in the developing world. Osotimehin said the organisation is urging donors and United Nations member countries to help produce this amount.

“The summit is planning to put some very high-level policy issues on the table,” Osotimehin told IPS. “We’ve identified 69 countries in the world where the greatest needs exist, and the summit would hope to raise the necessary funds to help these countries.”

The UNFPA says it already spends about 25 percent of its entire programme resources to “help governments buy family planning supplies and improve services.” By “reshaping its priorities and programmes”, the organisation plans to increase this spending to 40 percent, it says.

To gain the maximum attention, the London meeting has been timed to coincide with World Population Day, which raises awareness about the concerns related to managing a world of 7 billion people – a figure expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050 if current trends continue.

“The summit draws attention to the fact that the projected population growth rates are not an inevitability, and this is extremely important,” says Neil Datta, secretary of the Brussels-based European Parliamentary Forum (EPF), a political network that will be participating in the event.

“What happens in terms of population growth is in large part influenced or determined by our own actions. And these actions, also regarding consumption, have an impact on the future of our planet,” Datta told IPS.

“Our job as a parliamentary network will be to make sure that there is a political will for supporting family planning funding in the coming years,” he added.

One of the Gates Foundation’s stated aims is to aid people to “get off aid”; and greater access to birth control resources is one way to do this, according to co-chair Melinda Gates, wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

“If women have access to contraceptive tools, they can save their own lives, because we know it will decrease the number of women dying in childbirth and also save children,” she said at a conference on development in Paris earlier this year.

She said then that the objective of aid was to build countries that provide the right products and services to their people. “That’s what leads to sustainability, and that’s when a society can lift (itself) up,” she said.

Osotimehin emphasised this approach as well. He also pointed out that certain countries have shown that cultural and religious practices are no excuses for denying women access to family planning.

“I want to say that some of the most successful family planning strategies I know have taken place in what would appear to be very religious countries,” he said, citing Brazil, a largely Catholic country, and Iran (mostly Muslim) as having “very successful and progressive” family planning programmes.

“It’s about context and it’s about working with stakeholders on the ground and communities to understand that family planning is a liberating force that empowers women to make choices in their lives and also ensures that we can reduce the number of women dying,” Osotimehin said.

“I don’t think there’s any community in the world that can be against that,” he added.

But along with community mobilisation, legal reforms and economic incentives are crucial to “rectifying social discrimination and economic injustice” against women and girls, according to the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

In its latest Social Institutions and Gender Index report, the organisation said that women’s “reproductive autonomy is limited”, with one in five women on average in emerging and developing countries having no access to family planning.

At the Rio+20 conference, the Women’s Major Group (WMG) representing 200 civil society women’s organisations from all around the world, said it was greatly disappointed in the outcome.

“Women worldwide are outraged that governments failed to recognize women’s reproductive rights as a central aspect of gender equality and sustainable development in the Rio+20 Outcome Document,” the group stated.

The London summit is thus seen an opportunity to get back to the planning board.

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