What we should talk about when talking about family planning

Photo Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development via Wikimedia Commons

Today is World Population Day and Global Family Planning Day and around the world family planning is being discussed and highlighted as a top priority for development. Global organizations and campaigns, like the UN Foundation’s Every Woman Every Child, expresses that family planning is the best investment a country can make in its future. Check out this brochure explaining the returns of a $1 investment in family planning.

Investing in family planning is just the right thing to do for development.

Yet, official development assistance (ODA) directly targeted for reproductive health only amounted to around 4 % of total ODA in 2009 and 2010 (Hsu, Berman, Mills, in The Lancet’s Women Deliver Edition, 2013). The good news is that last year, world leaders came together at the London Family Planning Summit and made commitments to increase access to contraceptives and coordinate to strengthen family planning systems around the world, particularly for the poorest populations.

So, what is family planning?

Family planning is the right and opportunity for an individual to decide when and if to have children, having an impact on the age of first birth and the spacing between children. Family planning involves access to services and contraceptives that enable an individual to make informed decisions. When it comes to family planning, the world is not equal. I used Gapminder to create a graph to show the relationship between the lifetime risk of maternal death and income per person, as well as, the fertility rate – a country’s average amount of children per woman (Click on the graph to enlarge).

Gapminder Graph

The statistics show the disparities clearly, Niger has the biggest circle, representing the fertility rate of 7.3 children per woman. Niger also has a very low income per person and the lifetime risk of maternal death is 143 per 1000 women. In the richest corner of the graph is my home country, Sweden, with a very low fertility rate, and an extremely low risk of dying in pregnancy and childbirth.

The United Nations estimate that 200,000 women die every year when giving birth, and the majority of these deaths occur in the lowest income countries.

What these statistics show is that family planning is not only a means of enabling individuals to plan their families, but it is about enabling people to live – to live a healthy life with dignity. The risk of dying in pregnancy and childbirth should not be a stroke of luck depending on where you are born.

When we talk about family planning we should be talking about essential sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Now, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) involve so much more than just planning families. Having access to these essential services and the rights to choose these services, without discrimination, is essential for a girl to delay the age of first birth, enabling her to stay in school, earn an income and drive her community’s development forward. Perhaps most importantly, when these rights are fulfilled, a girl has the ability to dream – and reach for her dreams.  Also, SRHR is not only about couples wishing to plan families, everyone needs these services, people of all genders and all civil statuses. In her key note address at the ICPD International Conference on Human Rights, Dr. Nafis Sadik, former Under-Secretary General at the United Nations, stated,

Why, above all, are countries still so far from the central goal of universal access to affordable and appropriate sexual and reproductive health services? Most services are directed at married women with children, including sexually transmitted disease and AIDS prevention, GBV and cervical cancer screening. They do not reach the unmarried, the childless, adolescents – whether married or not – and most men. They do not reach people who may be outsidemainstream society – young people out of school, IDU’s, sex workers and the LGBT community.

SRHR need to be strengthened for societies to develop and to prosper. In the closing session of the Women Deliver 2013 conference, Frances Kissling, Senior Advisor to Women Deliver, recently named in the list of 25 amazing women by Worldwatch Institute, said, in regards to sexual and reproductive health and rights, that:

We are dealing with changing deeply engrained instincts.

To ensure sexual and reproductive health and rights we need to change social norms concerning gender relations and women’s status. For women and girls, SRHR is an essential part to live a healthy life free from discrimination and violence, giving her the right to choose when and if to have children, empowering her to be herself. To get there, we all must understand the importance of giving her the ability to make her own choices. That’s why on World Population Day, instead of talking about planning families, I choose to talk about every girl’s and every woman’s right to sexual and reproductive health and rights. As Frances Kissling emphasized,

Real transformation takes a really long time no matter how provocative you may be, and, no matter how gentle you may be.

I encourage you to stand firm and not be silenced. I believe we will see transformation for women and girls and transformation for societies around the world, as sexual and reproductive health and rights are realized. And in this transformation we all have a part to play. Dr. Nafis Sadik encourages,

It is essential that more and more men in leadership positions, in public life and in the home, will take up the fight for sexual and reproductive health and rights as their own. Women and women’s organizations must do their part through education, example and relentless advocacy. The message is ‘Human rights for women are human rights for everyone.’

Here’s what you can do today!

Catapult gives you an easy way to support projects that are developing communities by improving the lives of women and girls through sexual and reproductive health services:

  • Support reproductive health workshops in Afghanistan
  • Empower adolescents to take charge of their health in Jharkhand, India
  • Support family planning that saves lives in Papua New Guinea
  • Help Burmese migrant women access reproductive services

For more information regarding family planning and SRHR do check out the following:

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Category: Development    Health
Tagged with: Development    Dr. Nafis Sadik    Family Planning    Frances Kissling    Rights    sexual and reproductive health and rights    SRHR    Sustainability    WD2013    Women Deliver    World Population Day

Julia Wiklander


Julia is the Founder and President of Girls' Globe. She is optimistic about our world's future and the power of solidarity and storytelling. Julia is an economist and entrepreneur.

See more posts from Julia Wiklander

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