What I took away from the UK Family Planning Summit 2017

Family planning advocacy in Indonesia

By Fiona Coyle, Global and Sustainable Development Lead at the IPPF European Network Regional Office.

On 11 July, over 700 people from around the world (leaders, Minister, advocates, policymakers, youth activists, and researchers) descended upon London for the 2nd Family Planning summit. The recent death of the FP2020 co-chair and executive director of the UNFPA Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, and the current policy environment around women’s rights, made it an emotionally charged event. The gathering harnessed this energy and created a moment for actors around the world to re-energize and recommit in the fight for women’s empowerment through access to family planning.  In the one-day summit, there were over 30 panel on numerous topics. Here are a few of my own personal take-aways:

  1. Need for more male feminists

In the corridors and during panel discussions many spoke of the need to recommit ourselves to working harder for gender equality, together as women, men, youth and leaders of nations, communities and private sector. A key re-emerging message was the need for men to stand up and show leadership if women’s rights are to be fully achieved.

Amongst those raising this issue, Belgium Deputy Prime Minister De Croo called on his fellow male politicians and policymakers to play their part and identify as feminists. Others spoke on how we could build an environment where men feel comfortable and empowered to identify themselves as feminists and as champions of women’s rights. The gauntlet has been set and we must now collectively embark upon the challenging and indispensable task of politicising more men into embracing feminism. As Melinda Gates stated in her opening address, we need to stop talking to the converted.

  1. Humanitarian crisis is a key but neglected family planning issue

The hot topic of the summit was the importance of family planning during crisis and humanitarian situations. Numerous high-level speakers including Amina Mohammed and Melinda Gates highlighted that women and girls are the most vulnerable victims in humanitarian settings and we need to do more to protect them. Several financial commitments were made by Countdown 2030 Europe countries, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands. UNFPA also announced that reproductive health kits will now be included in first response to humanitarian emergencies – a move that many at the conference viewed as a game-changer. For many, this is a new area of focus.

  1. Family planning and rights go hand-in-hand

The focus of the summit and the family planning movement more broadly remains very much on access to and the delivery of contraceptive supplies. The importance of this is captured in the catchy UNFPA campaign ‘No products, no progress’. However, during the summit I also sensed a real desire to place access to family planning more broadly within (and perhaps central to) a rights movement. Within the internationally-agreed Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, women’s rights are recognized as a central question of development. One Summit speaker last week spoke of the current social and political challenges that are hindering progress and challenged the community to be animated by an even greater sense of urgency when tackling the issues facing women globally. Others spoke of the need to link more to the women’s movement, especially at grass root level. I left the summit with the message that family planning and rights must go hand-in-hand. We must put the girl and woman, and her right to decide, at the centre.

  1. Context-driven responses

At a spotlight session on the She Decides initiative Kate Gilmore, the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, made, what resonated with me, as one of the most important points of the summit. She highlighted that if we are to do better, and achieve real progress, we must be context sensitive as it's at country level we see the greatest leadership. It was refreshing during the conference to see the participation and commitments of so many Minsters and High-level representatives from Global South countries. Without country leadership and political ownership, the goal of empowering women could not be achieved. As a global federation IPPF will, through our member associations, continue to work with these countries to understand the contexts and ensure that there is an enabling environment for women to access their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

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Photo credit: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation/Prashant Panjiar

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You can read IPPF's statement welcoming new commitments made at the London Summit on our global website.