14 November 2012

Boston NGOs Keep Up Family Planning Summit Momentum

Family planning became a high profile topic over the past year thanks to controversial remarks from American politicians and a renewed effort by the Gates Foundation. Melinda Gates said that family planning is not a controversial issue in a TED talk that served as a precursor for the London Summit on Family Planning.

World leaders, organizations and advocates gathered in London in July to make financial commitments towards ensuring that the 250 million women around the world who lack access to family planning services will see their need filled. Prime Minister David Cameron delivered remarks at the event where he advocated for further partnering with countries.

"Studies show that limited education and employment opportunities for women in Africa mean annual per capita growth is almost a whole percentage point lower than it should be. Had this growth been achieved, Africa’s economies would have doubled in size over the last thirty years. Providing girls with just one extra year of schooling can increase their wages by as much as 20 per cent," said Cameron in July.

"And that really matters because a woman who can decide when to have children, will go to school for longer and then invest her extra money in her own family. When women have opportunity, resources and a voice, the benefits cascade to her children, her community and her country. So family planning is just the first step on a long journey towards growth, equality and development."

Reproductive health organizations in Boston sought to build off the momentum by hosting an event yesterday that discussed how to hold all participants accountable and to ensure that the goals set forward by the summit are met.

MSH president Dr Jonathan Quick cited an article from The Economist that touted the development benefits of family planning in his opening remarks. The article looks at recent data from a Harvard study which examined fertility rates and income inequality. It concludes:
First, the fall in fertility helps explain why income inequality is widening in developing countries. A World Bank paper from 2008 reckoned that two-thirds of poor and middle-income countries would experience a rise in inequality before 2030, with demographic shifts adding to inequality in four-fifths of all cases. Second, to counteract this initial spurt in inequality, there is an argument for doing things that reduce fertility among the poor—such as making contraception more widely available and encouraging girls to go to school. This would not only reduce the youth-dependency ratio more quickly but also make people happier, since most of the poor say that they want smaller families. Falling fertility benefits poor countries a lot, but it cannot do everything by itself.
A keynote address from Harvard School of Public Health professor David Canning brought an economic argument in support of family planning. He made a passing comment that the increased work in women would have a negative environmental impact in the short term, but did not expand on the point because he was cut off due to time constraints.

Canning lamented the fact that there was a lack of randomized control trials for measuring family planning impacts, but said that the data available showed that family planning provides both health and economic gains. Following a talk that built upon economic evidence, Canning walked back a bit at the end saying to the audience, "Economic growth is not the fundamental goal of life."

A panel discussion followed that touched on the London summit and ensuring that women have further access. Sandra Jordan of USAID talked about coordination, Monica Kerrigan of the Gates Foundation shared the excitement in establishing the event and Kyle Peterson explained the role for private sector.

UNFPA 2012 Population Award winner Adrienne Germain shifted the conversation a bit in her remarks. She argued that the conversation cannot stop with just access. Women need to have options and have the ability to attend established health centers. "We need decent facilities that have seating, reasonable hours and a curtain," said Germain stressing privacy and confidentiality.

She was the only panel member to raise the issue of abortion. The advocacy effort surrounding abortion needs to reframe the discussion, argued Germain. The majority of countries in the world allow abortions in at least one circumstance. That means that it should not be an issue to support systems that allow for safe abortions.

The conversation continued as the audience was then able to participate by asking questions. Read my storify of the event below for a more complete summary of the live tweets from the event.