While investing in women and girls is a hot topic these days, there’s one issue that hasn’t been getting much attention: family planning.
When compared to other popular areas of focus (e.g., girls’ education, women’s economic opportunities, young women’s leadership development), the more politically charged issues of women’s sexuality, contraception and family planning are harder to discuss and have therefore been left out of most conversations.
In the latest issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, former Global Fund for Women president Kavita Ramdas notes, “We want to educate girls, but we don’t want to talk about sex. We want girls to read, but we don’t want to provide them information about their bodies.” She adds: “The words of Margaret Sanger are as prescient now as they were when she first uttered them: ‘No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.’”
Yet one recent development may help turn the tide. As reported by Newsweek, Melinda Gates’ “new crusade” is to make family planning her signature issue. In a recent TEDxChange talk she said, “I’d like to talk with you about something that should be a totally uncontroversial topic.” Right now, 100,000 women annually die in childbirth after unintended pregnancies. Six hundred thousand babies born to women who didn’t want to be pregnant die in the first month of life. For these reasons and others, Gates sees global family planning as a public health issue – one that warrants broad-based consensus and shouldn’t be so contentious. She believes that by focusing on the lives of women and children, and by making it clear that the agenda is neither coercive population control nor abortion, the controversy over international family-planning programs can be defused.
With global attention to investments in women and girls at an all-time high, we have an important opportunity to reopen discussions on women’s sexual health and education and create cross-sector and bipartisan solutions.