At the heart of family planning is a woman’s right to choose whether or not and with whom she will have children, as well as her right to control the timing, spacing and number of children she chooses to have. At this conference, we are reflecting on the challenges and opportunities in providing girls and women with access to this human right. As part of looking at and assessing the overall picture, we are also reflecting on the role of boys and men in family planning. We are grappling with current events that create new obstacles, such as how to promote reproductive health among refugees and among communities affected by Ebola. We are also revisiting existing issues in light of new evidence, such as family planning among people living with HIV/AIDS.
One of the most exciting and important aspects of this conference is the focus on youth voices. Currently 1.8 billion young people are entering their reproductive years – that is more than ever before. When young people, especially girls, have control over the decisions regarding their reproductive health, they are able to complete their education, choose their livelihood, live healthier lives and develop more fully as individuals. Research also shows that girls’ and women’s access to family planning services has a ripple effect that results in healthier families and communities – so it’s not just the women and girls who benefit, it literally affects everyone. When young people are empowered to make positive choices, they create a better future for themselves, their communities and our world.
At the opening session today, UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin highlighted one of the most marginalised groups of young people: married girls. Child brides tend to have no control over their reproductive rights because their husbands dictate their choices. This week I’ll be presenting on delaying child marriage as a way to give girls access to all of their human rights, including family planning.
Family planning is a simple human right made complex by the archaic belief that girls and women should not have control over their own bodies. This conference recognizes that, while the goal of universal access is lofty, we can’t aim for anything less – and we are making progress. This act of gathering together in itself creates momentum that will carry us on this global journey and inspire our local actions.
By Ashley Lackovich-Van Gorp