In June, at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, global leaders missed a historic opportunity to put reproductive health and family planning at the center of global sustainability and development. Today’s London Summit on Family Planning, hosted by the United Kingdom and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, succeeded where the Rio+20 conference fell short, by making clear the inextricable links between women, reproductive health, and poverty reduction.
Research shows that more than 200 million girls and women in developing countries who want to delay, space, or avoid becoming pregnant are not using effective methods of contraception. The human toll of the unmet need for contraception is staggering. The World Health Organization estimates that there are almost 80 million unintended pregnancies each year, which lead to approximately 20 million unsafe abortions, and 68,000 maternal deaths annually. Women and girls who do not have access to quality services and information are often at serious risk of death or disability during pregnancy and childbirth. Each year, almost 300,000 women die from pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications.
The benefits of family planning are plentiful and powerful. If all women had the means to space the births of their children by three years, deaths of children under-five would decrease by 35 percent – saving nearly a million children’s lives. Wanted pregnancies are safer and healthier pregnancies – simply put, family planning saves lives.
The Summit mobilized more than $2.6 billion USD in financial pledges and commitments from governments, donors, and others to increase the accessibility of family planning resources for women around the world. Several governments of developing and developed nations made bold pledges to make contraception information, services, and supplies available to an additional 120 million women and girls in the world’s poorest countries by 2020. Developing countries, such as Rwanda, Nigeria, Indonesia, and India, committed to increasing and improving family planning programs – from building the capacity of community health workers to strengthening sexual and reproductive health programs for young people.
When girls have access to education about sexual and reproductive health and rights, they are more likely to delay marriage, more likely to delay their first pregnancy, and more likely to stay in school and secure productive employment. Up to a quarter of girls in Sub-Saharan Africa drop out of school due to unintended pregnancies. The benefits of education passes to the next generation – mothers who have had an education are more than twice as likely to send their own children to school than mothers with no education.
At the national and global levels, family planning is one of the cost-effective investments a government can make: satisfying the unmet need for contraceptives in the developing world would reduce overall health costs and save over US$1.5 billion a year. Each U.S. dollar spent on family planning can save governments up to $6 on health, housing, water, and other public services.
The final outcome document from the Rio+20 conference, ‘The Future We Want,’ did not acknowledge family planning and reproductive rights as a core issue in implementing sustainability, disappointing women and advocates from around the world. But the British government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with UNFPA and others, have taken an inspiring step to help women and young people everywhere have the futures they truly want.