Today, as we are celebrating this year’s World Population Day, these words by our late Executive Director Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, who passed away suddenly last month, touched the lives of millions of people—from world leaders to his staff to the women, girls and young people. His words resonate now more than ever. In his condolence
message of June 5, 2017, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres acknowledged that Dr Babatunde was “admired globally for his leadership of the UN Population Fund, and for his forceful advocacy for the world’s women and girls in particular,” concluding that “the world has lost a great champion of health and well-being for all.”
We at UNFPA are dedicated to continue Dr Osotimehin’s vision for women and young people and will continue to stand for the human rights and dignity of everyone, particularly the most vulnerable women and adolescent girls, including fulfilling their needs for protection, dignity and reproductive health needs. The theme of World Population Day, July 11, this year—“Family Planning: Empowering People, Developing Nations”—is exactly what he has been rooting for globally, stressing that when a woman is free to make choices about her life, her children, her family and everybody will benefit.
This year, the day also coincides with the London Family Planning Summit, the second meeting of a consortium of partners that make up the FP2020—Family Planning 2020—initiative, which aims to expand access to voluntary family planning to 120 million additional women by 2020. The UK Department for International Development is co-hosting the global summit on family planning in London with UNFPA and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in collaboration with Family Planning 2020 and in close partnership with US Agency for International Development and Global Affairs Canada. Nepal government made its FP2020 commitment in March 2015, including policy, financial, and service delivery pledges to expand access to voluntary, high-quality and rights-based family planning. The government’s commitment to scale up investments in family planning services, removing barriers to access, addressing the unmet need for reproductive health information and services for adolescents and women especially from marginalised groups is truly praiseworthy.
Family planning as a human right
The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) marked a paradigm shift in the field of population and development, replacing a demographically driven approach with one that is based on individuals’ and couples’ rights to decide freely and responsibly whether or when to start a family.
Universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, including voluntary planning, has been the centrepiece of the new paradigm. A rights-based approach deals not just with outcomes, but also with how those outcomes are achieved. It recognises that people are actors in their own development, rather than passive recipients of services. Informing, educating and empowering them is essential. Their participation is central, not only to ensure they have ownership over the programme, but also to sustain progress.
The results of the rights-based approach to sexual and reproductive health and family planning have been extraordinary. More women have become empowered to have the number of children they can care for, to start their families later in life, giving them an opportunity to complete their schooling, earn a better living and escape the trap of poverty.
A person’s ability to plan the timing and size of his or her family closely determines the realisation of other rights. Unfortunately, the right to family planning is one that many have had to fight for, and still today, despite the strong global and national rights and development frameworks that support it, requires vigorous advocacy and broader support.
Family planning and development
Extreme poverty can be eradicated. However, doing so requires understanding the complex relationship between family planning, gender equality and economic growth.
The rights of women and girls to decide freely and for themselves, on whether, when and how many children to have, brings women and girls more opportunities to become wage earners, boosting family income levels. As women gain access to productive resources, they also report better health outcomes, achieve higher levels of education and experience a lower incidence of intimate-partner violence. Adolescent girls who delay pregnancy tend to complete more years of schooling,
and women with more years of school tend to have fewer children. Investments in family planning thus create a reinforcing cycle of empowerment, supporting healthy, educated and economically productive women and families. And catering to their unmet need for family planning is among the most cost-effective investments overall.
Nepal government’s Costed Implementation Plan for Family Planning (2015-2020) highlights that every rupee spent on family planning returns Rs3.1 in savings in primary education, child immunisation, child pneumonia, maternal health and water, sanitation and health. Anita Tharu (21), who lives in Kapilvastu district and is the mother of a two year-old child, told a team of government and UNFPA officials in January this year that she was able to avoid unintended pregnancies because of family planning and was able to manage the size of her family and have more resources to support her child.
Investments in family planning also contribute to a demographic dividend, which raises a country’s economic earning potential. When the size of the dependent population (ie, children and the elderly) shrinks relative to the size of those in working age, it creates an economic advantage—especially in countries like Nepal with lower levels of overall national earnings—and thus the right policies can fuel major economic growth.
Lastly, achieving the world’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 will depend significantly on how well the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and young people are fulfilled. Family planning is one of the most cost effective investments to eradicate the extreme cycle of poverty, thus creating safer, healthier and resilient families. This is because women and girls with choices and greater reproductive health are better empowered to seek and keep better jobs and contribute more to their families, communities, provinces and Nepal as a whole. When their families are better-off financially and their children receive better education, it triggers a cycle of prosperity that carries well into future generations. This produces demographic dividends and enhances Nepal’s prosperity.