We need to send Congress and world leaders a message.
Nearly seventeen years ago, at the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo, world leaders declared that access to family planning and reproductive health services was a universal right. It’s time to make that right a reality for all.
As part of its poverty-fighting Millennium Development Goals, the U.N. has set 2015 as the target year for achieving universal access to reproductive health care. Reaching that target could change the world as we know it. By preventing unplanned and unintended pregnancies and improving reproductive health, it would empower women, boost gender equality, reduce maternal and infant mortality, keep girls in school longer, break the cycle of poverty in developing countries, help to protect the environment, and improve food security in nations that are now suffering from hunger and malnutrition.
But it won’t happen unless donor and developing nations alike step up their support for family planning and reproductive health services. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that there are 215 married women in developing countries who want to avoid an unwanted or unintended pregnancy, but who are not using a modern method of birth control. Providing family planning services to those 215 million women would cost an estimated $3.6 billion ($US) a year. In the scale of global spending, that’s next to nothing, even in an era of budget austerity.
We can do it. 2015 is still an achievable target, but everyone—including foundations and donor nations—need to their part. The United States, which last year appropriated $648 million for international family planning and reproductive health programs, needs to boost its support to the $1 billion level advocated by the International Family Planning Coalition. Other donor nations–particularly Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom—also need to ramp up their support for family planning and reproductive health. And developing nations, too, must do their part, by making these programs a national priority.
At a minimum, the international community this year must boost its current level of support for family planning and reproductive health by $1 billion. Anything less and hopes of achieving the 2015 target will soon fade. The target is already in serious jeopardy.
This year, world population will reach the 7 billion mark. The world’s largest generation of young people is rapidly approaching their prime reproductive years. If we neglect their sexual and reproductive health, we will deny them, their families, their communities, and the world at large the many benefits that flow from access to family planning and reproductive health programs. World population will continue to expand at nearly 80 million a year, and the challenge of feeding the world’s hungry will grow. Maternal and infant mortality will remain unacceptably high. Far too many young people will be exposed to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Hundreds of millions of girls and young women will never realize their potential, and the cycle of severe poverty will remain unbroken. We can’t let that happen.
Make no mistake about it: this is an uphill battle. Opponents of family planning want to slash funding this year. That’s why we must make our voices heard. That’s why the Population Institute will join with other family planning advocates later this week in launching a global petition campaign. We will be asking Congress and world leaders to make access to family planning and reproductive health programs a reality…not just a right. Won’t you join us?
Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President