KUALA LUMPUR—Enabling family planning use to empower girls and women and protect their health was the theme of day two of the Women Deliver conference. Nine months after developing countries, donors and civil society groups pledged to make voluntary contraception available to millions now lacking access, participants heard there has been significant progress towards that goal.
Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Keynote speakers were Melinda Gates, Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA. Both organizations were sponsors, along with the United Kingdom Government, of the London Summit on Family Planning last July.
There, 150 leaders agreed to work to provide contraceptive information, services and supplies to 120 million women in the world’s 69 poorest countries, without coercion or discrimination, by 2020.
“We have been working on a new approach that gives women what they really want,” Ms. Gates told the meeting, sharing the story of a young Indian mother who chose family planning so she could properly feed and educate her four children.
“The reason we do this work is concrete and simple,” she said. “Women tell us that having access to contraceptives will help them build a good life for themselves and their families.”
“Family planning is an essential human right, but it is also a key that unlocks untold rewards for both individuals and nations,” said Dr. Osotimehin.
UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin
“The promise of London is energizing the international community, and UNFPA is determined to deliver on its own commitment to intensify investment in family planning,” he promised.
“Governments are taking bold steps to make access to family planning a priority,” the UNFPA leader reported. “Countries like Senegal and the Philippines, Zambia, Indonesia and Malawi understand that family planning can be a game-changer.”
A panel discussion followed, where Philippines Secretary of Health Dr. Enrique Ona spoke about the recent passage, after a decade-long political struggle, of a law requiring the Government to provide family planning in public health facilities.
Dr. Awa Coll-Seck, Minister of Health in Senegal, described her country’s successful effort to better manage medical supplies, so health centres no longer run out of contraceptives.
Later, the importance of supply management was highlighted by an expert panel convened by UNFPA.
“Programmes only make sense when products get to where consumers and service providers actually need them,” said Edward Wilson, director of the Deliver Project at John Snow Inc. “Having them at the port is not very helpful to a woman who walks into a clinic and the shelf is empty.”
Another session outlined the plans for Family Planning 2020, an initiative to improve donor coordination and make the promises of the London summit a reality. Its leadership group is chaired by Dr. Osotimehin and Dr. Chris Elias, President of Global Development at the Gates Foundation. Task teams are being set up to address country engagement, rights and empowerment, performance monitoring and accountability, and market dynamics.
Since the summit, Dr. Elias said, the foundation has worked to halve the price of contraceptive implants by working with Bayer and Merk, the major manufacturers, to reduce uncertainty about demand.
Kate Gilmore, UNFPA Deputy Executive Director, Programme, said the work of FP2020 was essentially about “accelerating and delivering social change”.
“We’re talking about women’s and girls’ fundamental human rights,” she stressed. “The test will be how accountable we are: whether women and girls will recognize our work as empowering their lives.”
More than 3,000 people from 150 countries are taking part in the three-day meeting, the largest global conference in a decade focusing on the health and rights of women and girls.