UK leadership on family planning needed in 2017

Today is International Women’s Day, the annual event that both celebrates women’s rights and draws attention to the many ways in which they are still denied. This year’s theme is #BeBoldforChange. Despite decades of struggle for equality, there is still a long way to go, with a visible backlash underway in many areas. Currently, only one in five members of lower or single houses of parliament worldwide is a woman. More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to female genital mutilation/cutting. Statutory and customary laws continue to restrict women’s access to land and other assets and to opportunities. Violence against women and girls is still widespread in every country and every society.

Save the Children is a rights-based organisation, supporting women and girls to access their full range of human rights around the world. We work with partners and in coalitions to help ensure access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services for women and girls. We know that the ability to make their own choices about healthcare, marriage and whether and when to have children can be a matter of life and death. This also affects women and girls’ ability to exercise their rights to education, to work, to own property, and to live independently and freely. But sexual and reproductive health and rights are still denied to many women worldwide. Approximately 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth every day, almost all from the poorest communities in low and lower-middle income countries. Failures to prioritise and resource essential services needed by women, children and adolescents contribute to high rates of maternal and child mortality.  Poor quality and disrespectful healthcare is also common, leading to the World Health Organization’s much needed emphasis on ensuring quality, equity and dignity.

Women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights remain highly contentious, as evidenced by the She Decides conference last week in Brussels. This conference raised €181 million of new funding for family planning. The conference was organised in response to the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy which bans US global health support to foreign organisations which support access to safe abortion, even if they do so with non-US funding.

The UK government has traditionally been a champion for  family planning, and in 2012 hosted the London Summit on Family Planning, which delivered a historic global breakthrough promising access to family planning for 120 million women. The target was agreed to stop 200,000 women and girls from dying in pregnancy and save the lives of 3 million babies across the world’s poorest countries. Save the Children played an active part in the summit, focusing on the connection between women’s reproductive health and preventing child mortality. FP2020, the partnership charged with delivering this commitment, has shown progress since then, but there remains much to do. UNFPA estimates that 225 million women who want to avoid pregnancy are not using safe and effective family planning methods.

In July this year, the UK will hold a follow-up summit to assess progress, identify where countries have made good progress and where much more needs to be done. Save the Children strongly welcomes this summit and will work with the UK government, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and UNFPA to make it a success. Family planning is essential for the well-being of women, children, families and communities and the 2017 London Summit must be bold in upholding women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in the face of difficult headwinds.



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