Where does your passion for women’s health and rights come from?
My interest is principally in addressing social and economic inequality and my work has focused in overcoming poverty and subjugation in the United States, other countries and globally. Women and girls are disadvantaged in all these settings simply as a result of being born female. Their sexual and reproductive lives and choices are rarely their own and as a result, unwanted sexual activity, pregnancy and vulnerability to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV are facts of life that go hand in hand with poverty and disempowerment.
It is the first time Advocacy & Accountability is a separate track on this conference. As co-chair of the Advocacy & Accountability Subcommittee, what is the added value you expect? And what outcomes do you hope for?
The added value of a track on advocacy and accountability is the growing awareness that governments are ready to help address the family planning needs of their own constituencies. Policymakers are increasingly open to the evidence-based advice of the reproductive health community and acknowledge that policy expertise is as important as that of researchers and health professionals. The outcome we aspire to is a partnership between all sectors represented at the International Conference on Family Planning that will set the stage for prioritizing family planning in policymaking and monitoring and building on progress.
What, according to you, are the most important issue(s) in Family Planning and how can they be addressed?
There are a number of crucial issues to raise in this important global forum. The first is emphasizing that access to quality, voluntary contraceptive information, services and supplies is key to poverty reduction and achievement of the Global Goals on Sustainable Development. Research shows there is a clear connection between family planning and education, public health and prosperity.
Second, we need to focus on the needs of sexually active young people. Young people are a major part of the world’s population and often they are told not to have sex before marriage. Therefore they don’t get access to contraceptives.
In terms of sexual and reproductive rights we need to acknowledge the lack of full contraceptive choice for all women and couples. Long term contraceptives, such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants are very effective and an important part of the method mix. At the same time we can celebrate the policy advances that are supporting full contraceptive choice. One example is the World Health Organization’s review of the evidence on what is safe and effective in community-based distribution of contraceptives. What could be supported more is access to and use of Sayana Press, a simpler means of providing depo provera (both are 3-montly injectable contraceptives). Avenues for this maximization include better access through community health workers and pharmacies and possibilities for self-injection.
Finally, devolution of governance in most countries in the world presents challenges and opportunities. Engaging with policymakers in villages, districts, provinces, and states on family planning issues is critical to driving and sustaining supportive policies, mobilizing financial resources, and ensuring that funding mechanisms such as the Global Financing Facility fulfil their potential. This conference shows the interest in Family Planning is increasing. If governments, private sector, and nongovernmental organizations work together, we definitely will make a difference.