Access to safe, voluntary family planning is a human right. It is central to gender equality, women’s empowerment and is a key factor in reducing poverty. To commemorate the UN’s World Population Day, JCU Lecturer Sandra Downing explains how investment in family planning saves lives and makes financial sense.
It is critical to support the right of women and girls to decide freely and for themselves whether, when and how many children they have. This year’s World Population Day coincides with the Family Planning Summit, which will bring together advocates and leaders from around the world with the vision of expanding access to voluntary family planning to 120 million additional women by 2020.
There has been a slow but steady increase in the use of modern contraceptive methods in developing countries. In 2016, the total number of users in the world’s poorest countries reached 300 million. Yet 214 million women of reproductive age in developing countries who want to avoid pregnancy are not using a modern contraceptive method. These women are considered to have an unmet need for modern contraception.
There are many reasons why women do not use contraceptives including logistical problems, such as difficulty travelling to health facilities or supplies running out at health clinics. There are also social barriers, such as opposition by partners, families or communities. Lack of knowledge plays a role, with many women not understanding that they are able to become pregnant, not knowing what contraceptive methods are available, or having incorrect perceptions about the health risks of modern methods.
Ensuring that women with an unmet need for modern contraception overcome barriers to effective contraceptive use is crucial, since they account for 84 per cent of all unintended pregnancies in developing regions.
Expanding access to modern forms of contraception, with a focus on the most marginalised and vulnerable girls and women, is also vital to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Family planning can speed up progress in every aspect of development. Whether or not women and girls can have access to contraception will have an enormous —and perhaps determinative — impact on our ability to reach the SDGs in every country.