Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Health Has No Borders: Making Good on Family Planning Summit Commitments

July 11, 2012

“We’re here for a very simple reason: women should be able to decide freely, and for themselves, whether, when, and how many children they have,” said UK Prime Minister David Cameron at the opening of the London Summit on Family Planning.

The summit comes as a new study shows that meeting the unmet need for contraception could reduce global maternal deaths by nearly one-third.

Today, world leaders convened at this gathering place and pledged $2.6 billion in support for women and families in some of the world's least developed countries, exceeding its goal of $2.3 billion.A lot is on the table.

Now it’s up to us to hold those in power accountable to their promises.

We won’t see thriving societies without women’s empowerment. That empowerment must include supporting women's ability to decide if, when, and how often they become pregnant.

Numerous commitments from powerful nations, UN agencies, international organizations, and private foundations were released today.  Perhaps most noteworthy, though, are those made by developing nations from Bangladesh to Malawi, countries with limited resources.  Zambia, for example, pledged to double budgetary allocations for family planning by 2020.

Such ambitious goals from developing countries with many urgent national concerns demonstrate a new trend in development:  putting women's health first.

For her part, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made women and girls central to the foreign policy agenda. These investments, she points out, aren't just a matter of public health, but essential to achieving our goals of promoting democracy, peace, and prosperity.  As she states

“It’s no coincidence that many of the places where we see the most instability and conflict are also places where women are abused and denied their rights, young people are ignored, minorities are persecuted, and civil society is curtailed.  And those are not just symptoms of instability.  They actually undermine societies, regional and global stability as well.”

In other words, we won’t see thriving societies without women’s empowerment. 

That empowerment must include supporting women's ability to decide if, when, and how often they become pregnant.

"Reproductive rights are human rights," Secretary Clinton said today.  Fully realizing those rights requires more than good policies and guidelines; it requires access to quality services and dependable supplies of contraception. Without that access, the rights don’t mean as much.

Today's Summit puts an important focus on women’s empowerment and providing access and options to the least developed, most disenfranchised communities.  The summit represents a major step forward, as leaders put to paper tangible promises to help make reproductive rights a reality.

But our work is just beginning.  These commitments now need to be turned into action, and U.S. leadership must be sustained.  It’s up to all of us to ensure women’s health has no borders.

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