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London Summit on Family Planning: The "Thin Place"

August 29, 2012

You know after a long hike, when you summit a mountain and get to the very top and you have that moment? It’s the moment that catches your breath, that makes you do a double take at the amazing view, and that gives you the feeling of being on top of the world. The feeling is of being in a “thin place,” a place or situation that Celtic Mystics believed to be a coming together of heaven and earth. Thin places can be encountered all over—anywhere you encounter a person or a situation that touches you deeply. The essence of thin places is that they transform us. The London Summit on Family Planning was a “thin place” for the global health community and for millions of women around the world who want to plan their families. It was transformational for so many reasons.

The Summit brought family planning back into the mainstream of global health conversations, a place it hasn’t been in decades. And it put the focus of that conversation on women and what they want—voluntary access to contraceptives and the ability to plan their families and their futures. It transformed it into a social justice issue, grounded by women’s rights and based on the evidence of the amazing positive impact that using contraceptives can have on improved health, chances of survival, and on improved educational opportunities and economic potential. And these benefits go beyond just a woman’s life to extend to her family, community and entire nations.

The thin place of the Summit engaged a broad coalition of stakeholders from all over the world to recommit—finances, leadership and energy—to family planning. Now these leaders will have to find the thin places in each of their own countries, organizations, businesses, civil society, and even the new partners who have joined the commitment.

The thin place brought us all to a clear goal, agreed upon by so many partners and inspired and guided by the key principles of the Summit—to maintain women at the center; for activities to be country-driven; to ensure the availability and quality of information, services and contraceptives; and to integrate family planning efforts with a broader health agenda for women and children.

For me, reaching the thin place took courage on the part of all partners to take a calculated risk and stand up for an issue that is not controversial, yet has so much dissent. I’m proud to see how many people have had the courage to stand up for this issue, in support of women’s rights, social justice, and a transformation in global health, and particularly in the lives of poor women and girls around the world.

Of course, after reaching the summit of the mountain and experiencing the thin place, the work of going back down to base camp begins, sometimes even harder than the hike up, sometimes requiring even more courage.

And that is where we are now with the commitment to family planning—an extremely long and strenuous hike in front of us to reach that goal of giving women the ability and possibility to plan their families.

We urge you to hold us and our partners accountable to that goal and commitments made at the Summit as we begin the next leg of the hike, motivated by a goal and inspired by the view from the top.


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