In the aftermath of the Family Planning Summit, my mind keeps drifting back to the question I have asked a dozen of times throughout the day – what does family planning mean to you? I’m convinced it means freedom – to decide if and when a woman wants to have a child. As we march towards this goal, we will have to navigate barriers of oppression, prejudice, and fear.
But if I am to prescribe the latter, I have to acknowledge and overcome some barriers of my own. I have always felt a pang of guilt and uncertainty in discussing women’s rights and sexual reproductive health rights (SRHR). I’d like to think it comes from a good place – acknowledgement of my privilege. Male, 25, the only child of a loving family, grew up in London. For me to speak up and take a step forward was to deny an opportunity for girls and women to take the spotlight and lead the conversation, or so I thought until yesterday.
As a youth reporter at the Family Planning Summit, I had the opportunity to meet and interview incredible young champions and advocates of the cause – men and women. Reflecting on what they said, I realised that in taking a step forward we, men, are not taking the spotlight away from women. We are finally standing together and acknowledging our joint responsibility for our shared future.
Together we have to face the fact that for far too long women were left to face this struggle on their own, and acknowledge the barriers that divide and hold us back. During my time in Bangladesh I saw how, in silent consent of the community, vile practice of child marriage continued to be a norm. In silence because young felt powerless and were afraid of repercussions and isolation from their community. Sexual curiosity in boys was largely ignored, but was persecuted with humiliation when discovered in girls. I saw an education system that denied sexual education to the young, and prescribed abstinence instead. Thereby leaving them to fend for themselves through trial, shame, and error.
But if I learned anything during the summit and from Bangladesh, it’s that there is no end to energy and passion for this cause. I have witnessed first-hand how hungry young people we worked with were for information regarding family planning and SRHR, in the face of all obstacles. They were keen to take part in the sessions conducted by SRHR team and discuss the topic.
Dear reader, there are 1.2 billion adolescents around the world who are reaching their reproductive years. What future will we face if they are denied the basic information and tools necessary to make informed choices and plan for their future? If they are denied an opportunity to empower, educate, and invest in themselves? Empowering these young people, the next generation, to decide if and when they want to have children will break the cycle of poverty and unlock huge economic potential that could change the future of whole countries.
Be wary of the headlines coming from the summit that put Trump and withdrawal of US funds at the centre of the narrative. At the heart of all conversations were the young. Ministers, advocates, and youth delegates stressed the importance of reaching and educating the young, as well as the role we have to play in furthering the cause and actions we can take.
Following the summit, the movement for universal access to family planning goes on with new countries, partners, and donors. By increasing its funding, UK has committed to supporting for 20 million women and girls every year; thus preventing 6 million unintended pregnancies and 75,000 still births. A tremendous £1.6 billion was committed by Asian and African countries in support of family planning. These funds will help to fix supply chains and provide greater variety of contraceptives to those who need it.
Drive to the next milestone – providing access to contraceptives to 120 million women by 2020 – is an arduous one. Achieving universal access to family planning is an enormous task, and while we have great leaders and champions, we need your help to turn plans and commitments into action. Join us.