The morning after the Family Planning Summit

By Delphine Schlosser

Delphine Schlosser is Support Officer: Programmes at the Alliance.

The international Family Planning Summit that took place in London on 11 July marked a regalvanising of political will and collaborative efforts towards the FP2020 goals, despite slower than anticipated progress towards the global targets.

At a post-conference event, the Morning After, organised by the UK sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) network, civil society participants came together to reflect on the outcomes of the Summit and the way ahead.

<p>A youth group in the Malnicherra tea plantation in Sylhet, Bangladesh. The group raises awareness of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). It supported by local CBO (RWDO) which in turn is supported by HASAB, Alliance Linking Organisation in Bangladesh. The group's activities have helped prevent early marriage in the area. It is part of a programme - case studies available.</p>A youth group in the Malnicherra tea plantation in Sylhet, Bangladesh. The group raises awareness of sexual and reproductive health and rights. © International HIV/AIDS Alliance

Civil society claims its space

While space for civil society seems to be ever shrinking, especially in the contested field of SRHR (the very idea of sexual and reproductive rights still being controversial), civil society organisations managed to claim a space at the summit.

Unlike at the 2012 Summit, this year civil society organisations were invited to the official event along with country delegates, and to curate or participate in so-called spotlight sessions.

The Alliance’s SRHR lead, Luisa Orza, spoke about HIV and family planning integration at the Leave No-one Behind spotlight curated by the UK SRHR network. Our programmes director, Divya Bajpai, attended the She Decides spotlight where she spoke from the floor (see her speak at 3:44:25 on the video), re-emphasising the need to leave no woman or girl behind.

Civil society organisations were also among the new commitment makers at the Summit, articulating their investments in and commitments to women’s and girls’ comprehensive SRHR through advocacy, service provision, health system strengthening and addressing social norms.

Focus on youth

A central focus of the Summit was “empowering young people to thrive”, a theme that speaks to one of the Alliance’s priorities. Young women and men were included in some countries’ delegations, while others were moderating plenary and spotlight events, and speaking on panels.

Both donor countries and FP2020 focus countries committed to increasing contraceptive use among adolescents, despite enduring sensitivities around sexual activity of (unmarried) young people. Several countries (Canada, Norway and Sweden) also committed to support comprehensive sexuality education, something which the Alliance called for in the briefing paper published ahead of the Summit.

Recognising that data gaps for younger age groups remain a critical issue, the Summit also launched a Global Adolescent Data Statement, which commits signatories (including the Alliance) to the collection, use and reporting of age and sex-disaggregated data, within family planning and sexual and reproductive health service delivery programmes.

A focus on rights

At the Morning After, it was noted that family planning is still often “sold” to governments instrumentally as a poverty reduction tool. But excitingly, at this year’s summit, family planning was also discussed in terms of rights.

This was particularly the case at the She Decides spotlight event, which introduced the movement’s manifesto and its vision of “a world where every girl and woman can decide what to do with her body, with her life, and with her future.” At this session, delegates heard UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore urge them to put rights at the centre of all their family planning efforts.

A focus on rights was also reflected in the emphasis of some of the commitment makers on the importance of situating family planning within a comprehensive SRHR agenda, and recognising the linkages between family planning and HIV, gender-based violence or safe abortion, among others.

Priti Patel’s keynote speech also made reference to these areas within the framing of an SRHR agenda. Some attendees even sensed a “demystification” of feminism at the summit – and indeed there was no shyness from the Canadian and Swedish governments in declaring their agenda and foreign policy “feminist” in their respective written commitments.

An elephant in the room

While some donor governments – such as Sweden – made explicit commitments to defend and support access to legal, safe abortion, there was nevertheless a feeling among the SRHR community that the “Global Gag Rule” was the elephant in the room at the Summit. The Morning After was an opportunity to discuss it more openly.

While the Alliance Secretariat has made the difficult decision to refuse to comply with the US administration’s grossly expanded implementation of the Global Gag Rule – in recognition of which our executive director, Christine Stegling, was invited to be one of the She Decides torchbearers – not all organisations are in a position to give up US global health funding.

In this difficult context, civil society organisations must collaborate to find creative ways around the Global Gag Rule to ensure that women who need safe abortion services can access them. The Alliance will continue to engage with the She Decides movement and other partners, including our Linking Organisations, to advocate for comprehensive SRHR including the right to safe, legal abortion, and document the potentially disastrous impact of the extended Global Gag Rule on holistic, person centred, and integrated health services, including HIV prevention, treatment and care.