UN calls for more support for family planning

Posted: 1 December 2011

With thousands of experts gathering in Dakar, Senegal, this week for the largest family planning meeting of its kind, the United Nations is calling on world leaders to invest more in voluntary family planning.

“Unmet need for voluntary family planning remains appallingly high,” said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA’s Executive Director and a keynote speaker at the historic event. “Investing in voluntary family planning today will not only pay dividends now, but will also help history’s largest generation of young people enjoy opportunities and forge a brighter future.

A family receives family planning advice at Kivunge Hospital, Zanzibar.
A family receives family planning advice at Kivunge Hospital, Zanzibar. Photo © Sala Lewis/UNFPA

“Family planning will also save women’s lives and enable them to space their pregnancies, so that they can seize educational and employment opportunities. This would empower and enable them to contribute even more to their communities and nations,” added Dr. Osotimehin.

“This conference in Dakar is officially about family planning,” said Dr. Osotimehin. “But it’s also about a larger effort to improve women’s and children’s health. It’s about every woman, every child. It is about accelerating social and economic progress. And it’s about a new path to sustainable development.”

The International Conference on Family Planning, which started on Tuesday, brings together more than 2,000 leading scientists, experts and policy makers to examine cutting edge research and programmes that help advance the health and wealth of families and nations worldwide. It also aims to boost efforts to ensure wider access to family planning—particularly for the more than 215 million women in developing countries who lack access to modern family planning.

The four-day conference will feature more than 140 plenaries and sessions, 45 panels and 170 poster exhibitions that will share the latest research, proven strategies, and lessons learned in addressing the need for family planning worldwide. UNFPA is co-organizing a number of panels and side events, including a session on integrating family planning with other reproductive health care; another on new developments to measure unmet need in family planning; a third on male involvement in family planning; and a fourth on key elements of successful programmes that deliver family planning services through community health programmes. UNFPA is also taking an active part in a high-level ministerial meeting on realizing the demographic dividend for the wealth and health of nations.

“To meet the global demand for family planning, we must galvanize greater political and financial support. We must hold governments accountable for their commitments, and champion innovation and access – both in the global North and in the South,” said Dr. Osotimehin. “Commitments need to turn from words to action.”

In a presentation on 'Intended Childbearing and Population Growth', Robert Engelman of Worldwatch imagined a future in which all women have the right and means of exercising personal control over their pregnancies. He called on the family planning community to demonstrate that population policy seeks to increase the percentage of births that result from intended pregnancies, and help women avoid unwanted pregnancies. To earn public support for rights-based population policies, advocates of family planning need to communicate that empowering women to make their own reproductive choices will improve both their individual well-being and our collective environment.

Currently President of the Worldwatch Institute, Engleman has recently published More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want, in which he advocates expanding women’s reproductive rights around the world to prevent an unsustainable population explosion.