Family Planning, International Policies, Reproductive Health Supplies

Perspectives on the London Family Planning Summit 2012: Seeing the Forest and the Trees

Originally posted on RH Reality Check

Albert Einstein once said, “Never memorize something that you can look up.” As we head into the July 11th London Summit on Family Planning, we can focus more on concepts than numbers, because we know this: 222 million women in developing countries want to avoid pregnancy, but lack effective contraception. The London Summit will aim to meet the contraceptive needs of 120 million women in the world’s poorest countries. These “new users” will cost an additional $4 billion in resources over the next eight years.

What we don’t know, or rather have a hard time remembering, is that opportunities like this can become their own special universe. More attention (and criticism) is placed on the inputs —such as framing, messaging, and logistics – than on the more important outputs, meaning those 120 million women and their needs.

First, this groundbreaking global convening is adding something substantial, so let’s calibrate our expectations while trying to hit it out of the park. Those close to the planning of the Summit have said from the beginning: July 11th is the promise; what follows is the fulfillment of that promise. I take this to mean that the real work happens after we leave London. This will be accountability for donors, follow-up on pledges, and the design of a funding mechanism that promotes and protects rights, access, equity, choice and quality of care.

I haven’t before seen an opportunity like this, and we must be unified behind our shared agenda that every girl and woman deserves the opportunity to determine her own future. It is up to us to talk about these interventions as life-saving for individuals, transformative for communities, and cost-effective and multiplier investments for nations. It is up to us to make it work, in real time, and in real terms.

Second, the age-old advocacy divide risks playing out here: the Summit promises a ton of new money for family planning, but places less focus on the over-arching agenda of sexual and reproductive health and rights. But is it all or nothing? Family planning contributes to the well-being of women, and helps fulfill the promise of planetary sustainability and economic growth. Not too shabby.

Yet family planning is merely one piece of an individual woman’s sexual and reproductive health needs over the course of her lifetime. Other needs could include access to safe abortion, sexual health care as a young and unmarried woman, and a range of contraceptive methods. Again, the fulfillment of that promise is up to us. No one is denying that family planning is a means to a bigger and bolder end, and we cannot deny any woman the full realization of her health and rights.

So let’s engage with Summit conveners in a constructive, sleeves-rolled-up sort of way, behind our shared agenda. Let’s spend our energy attacking our true enemy — the people who peddle misogyny, fear of women’s power, and good ole Puritan-style discomfort with sex. It displays a profound weakness of the progressive front if we spend more time attacking our allies than we do our true critics. PAI has a big bucket of ice-cold water to throw at opponents’ repressed and perverse arguments — and we need more partners to help us lift it!

And that gets me to my final reminder: believe it or not, this Summit isn’t about us. By us I mean the civil society community who alternately calls ourselves family planners, reproductive justice advocates, gender defenders, and a host of other echo-chamber worthy monikers.

This moment is about women and girls who deserve the opportunity to “have it all,” if you will. I believe we have all the consensus we need on that front.

The train is leaving the station — and there are tickets for the willing. Join our journey, and watch women transform the 21st century.

3 Responses to “Perspectives on the London Family Planning Summit 2012: Seeing the Forest and the Trees”

  1. Alan Ditmore

    This global stuff is pie in the sky when we have yet to establish overpopulation policies in OUR OEN TOWNS! We need MUNICIPAL environmental contraception funds first, ONLY after winning those can we hope to establish global ones. Please read these petitions advocating municipal environmental
    contraception funding, which is increasingly politically realistic due
    to The Big Sort in more and more towns, and helps women’s rights, quality of life, and school taxes as well as being at
    least 5 times more cost-effective than any other environmental effort.

    The prochoice and contraception movements are placing too high a priority on defensive actions in the red states when we should be going on the offensive, the side of “change”, in the blue states, and cities. The worst places
    will get even worse no matter what we do, but the unrealized political potential, the low hanging fruit, is in making the best places even better. This opportunity is being caused by The Big Sort. Mayors are not answerable to rural voters, unlike governors and presidents.
    We americans love cars more than babies, Very soon we will have to choose, and we will choose cars.

  2. Steven Earl Salmony

    Do reasonable and compassionate human beings have a “duty to warn” of looming threats to future human wellbeing and environmental health, and then to sensibly help one another make preparations or are we to pose as if we are blind, deaf and dumb to the predicament and, thereby, let the least fortunate, most poorly situated and simply unaware among us suffer the consequences, come what may?

  3. Margaret Perkins

    Dear PAI,
    Yes the London Family Planning Summit was groundbreaking- a true inspiration and a tribute to Melinda Gates and DfID.
    The disappointing aspect was that this summit was launched from London and was essentially driven by European and African leaders. American presence was minimal, except for Melinda.American Population/Family Planning Organizations must really start and internal soul searching as to why they are not more effective in the domestic agenda and on the world stage. The fact that the Lancet was involved and published a special issue on Family Planning on the day of the summit and NOT the New England Journal of Medicine or Science is very telling. My assessment is that American leaders and politicians in this field do not have the intellectual or political strength to counter the skillful campaign waged by the regressive anti-women lobby. Their message is not that compelling, but ours is currently much weaker and failing. Having a Prime Minister, David Cameron, get up and say you can win against the Vatican if your message is a better message is the type of statement we should be hearing every day from our leaders.

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