Perspectives on the London Family Planning Summit 2012: Seeing the Forest and the Trees


See all our coverage of the 2012 Global Family Planning Summit here.

Albert Einstein once said, “Never memorize something that you can look up.” As we head into the July 11th London Summit on Family Planning, we can focus more on concepts than numbers, because we know this: 222 million women in developing countries want to avoid pregnancy, but lack effective contraception. The London Summit will aim to meet the contraceptive needs of 120 million women in the world’s poorest countries. These “new users” will cost an additional $4 billion in resources over the next eight years.
What we don’t know, or rather have a hard time remembering, is that opportunities like this can become their own special universe. More attention (and criticism) is placed on the inputs —- such as framing, messaging, and logistics –- than on the more important outputs, meaning those 120 million women and their needs.

First, this groundbreaking global convening is adding something substantial, so let’s calibrate our expectations while trying to hit it out of the park. Those close to the planning of the Summit have said from the beginning: July 11th is the promise; what follows is the fulfillment of that promise. I take this to mean that the real work happens after we leave London. This will be accountability for donors, follow-up on pledges, and the design of a funding mechanism that promotes and protects rights, access, equity, choice and quality of care.

I haven’t before seen an opportunity like this, and we must be unified behind our shared agenda that every girl and woman deserves the opportunity to determine her own future. It is up to us to talk about these interventions as life-saving for individuals, transformative for communities, and cost-effective and multiplier investments for nations. It is up to us to make it work, in real time, and in real terms.

Second, the age-old advocacy divide risks playing out here: the Summit promises a ton of new money for family planning, but places less focus on the over-arching agenda of sexual and reproductive health and rights. But is it all or nothing? Family planning contributes to the well-being of women, and helps fulfill the promise of planetary sustainability and economic growth. Not too shabby.  

Yet family planning is merely one piece of an individual woman’s sexual and reproductive health needs over the course of her lifetime. Other needs could include access to safe abortion, sexual health care as a young and unmarried woman, and a range of contraceptive methods. Again, the fulfillment of that promise is up to us. No one is denying that family planning is a means to a bigger and bolder end, and we cannot deny any woman the full realization of her health and rights.

So let’s engage with Summit conveners in a constructive, sleeves-rolled-up sort of way, behind our shared agenda. Let’s spend our energy attacking our true enemy — the people who peddle misogyny, fear of women’s power, and good ole Puritan-style discomfort with sex. It displays a profound weakness of the progressive front if we spend more time attacking our allies than we do our true critics. PAI has a big bucket of ice-cold water to throw at opponents’ repressed and perverse arguments — and we need more partners to help us lift it!

And that gets me to my final reminder: believe it or not, this Summit isn’t about us. By us I mean the civil society community who alternately calls ourselves family planners, reproductive justice advocates, gender defenders, and a host of other echo-chamber worthy monikers.

This moment is about women and girls who deserve the opportunity to “have it all,” if you will. I believe we have all the consensus we need on that front.

The train is leaving the station — and there are tickets for the willing. Join our journey, and watch women transform the 21st century.  

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