Speaking at the Family Planning Summit held in London on 11 July 2017, the Rt Hon Priti Patel, the UK Secretary of State for International Development, noted that access to family planning cannot be addressed in isolation. Instead she called on the need to link this with the wider investment around education for girls, maternal health, women’s economic empowerment, preventing HIV/AIDS, ending child marriage and violence against women and girls, including female genital mutilation (FGM).
Gathered at the Summit were global leaders, donors and policy makers discussing efforts to reach the Family Planning 2020 goals and ensure more women and girls globally can plan their families and their futures. In doing so, they explored new ideas by which barriers impeding access to family planning can be removed and voluntary, modern contraception can be offered to many more millions of women in the poorest countries across Africa and Asia.
The Girl Generation welcomes the Secretary's call for great linkages and the specific inclusion of women affected by FGM. However, these linkages need to occur within a framework that (i) focuses on the socio-cultural and normative context that impacts adversely upon women’s sexual and reproductive health needs generally despite available technical contraceptive choices, and (ii) the specific anatomical needs of, and preferences for, family planning methods of FGM survivors.
As a leading supporter of ending FGM across Africa, UKAid via the Department for International Development (DFID), offers a great foundation for the linkages that the Rt Hon Patel alluded to and is well positioned to encourage this integration across other development agencies. We have been encouraged by the various commitments made at the meeting, including Canada’s strong commitment to women’s and girls’ empowerment, gender equality and a feminist international agenda. To this end, Canada is taking a comprehensive approach to sexual and reproductive health and rights for all, including support for policies and programmes and advocacy that provide sex education, strengthen reproductive health services, invest in family planning and contraceptives and support initiatives that prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence and early and forced marriage.
Beyond this leadership the Sustainable Development Goals provide a great framework to achieve these goals by including a specific target on ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services as part of the health goal, and several targets on sexual and reproductive rights under the gender goal. All components of sexual and reproductive health, such as family planning, prevention of unsafe abortion, elimination of harmful practices, such as FGM, addressing violence against women, and ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health services by all in need, including adolescents, are being addressed within the new Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health launched by the then UN Secretary-General in September 2015.
Our experience in practice, however, indicates work around ending FGM and other gender-based violence issues, though central, have been addressed in an isolated version with minimal linkages to mainstream sexual and reproductive health and maternal and newborn and child health issues. Yet we know all too well that gender inequality and power relations directly affect women’s access and use of services. Gender discrimination within families, communities, and societies, compounded by lack of decision-making power and access to information, can severely affect maternal health. Due to differences in power relations, women and children endure violence and are often powerless to report violations to authorities or are restricted from seeking medical attention. The prevalence of harmful traditional practices such as FGM not only perpetuates gender imbalances but more importantly causes long-term disabilities that can pose serious complications during pregnancy and child birth.
We therefore add our voice to Hon. Patel’s call for inter-linkages and urge donors and international policy makers, and governments to apply a holistic approach to issues affecting women and girls. It is by following this pathway that we will get closer to attaining the FP2020 goals.