Reproductive Rights: From Rio+20 to Aspen Ideas, London and Beyond

Jul 4th, 2012 | By | Category: Family Planning, Rio+20 Earth Summit

by Suzanne York, – In the aftermath of the UN Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, which deliberately left reproductive rights out of the official outcome text, there is little time to feel discouraged.  There are education and awareness campaigns to undertake, and alliances to build and strengthen – especially between the environmental and women’s rights movements.

One good meeting to direct our campaigns towards is Cairo+20 in 2014, the twenty year anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development, which put women’s rights and reproductive health into  international policy agenda.

However, the world won’t have to wait until Cairo to pick up the discussion and create a positive plan of action.  Family planning and reproductive health are in the spotlight now.  At the annual Aspen Ideas Festival, a gathering of distinguished speakers, policymakers, journalists, academics and others interested in current affairs, population-related issues, for the first time, are part of the agenda.  Though it hasn’t been front and center as much as it should be, population has been lurking throughout the week-long conference workshops and plenaries.  This week,  family planning services and women’s health were finally the main subject of a panel titled “Politics and Sex”.

Speaker Christopher Elias of the Gates Foundation noted that family planning has become unnecessarily controversial and we need to re-establish a consensus that access to contraceptives be non-controversial.

Elias talked of the importance of understanding the three main drivers of population growth:

1) continued  high desired fertility by some families and the concurrent need to bring down child mortality;
2) the existing unmet need for access to family planning services – 215 million women in developing countries want access to family planning services but do not have access to contraceptives.  “Women should be provided the means to do what they already want to do”, said Elias;

3) the largest driver of population growth  is population momentum, the natural increase in population in a world where half of the population is under thee age of 25 and are either in or will soon reach their peak reproductive years. The global community should focus on education for girls and women, and create opportunities for better  livelihoods.

Musimbi Kanyoro, President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women

Musimbi Kanyoro, President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women

Another panelist, Musimbi Kanyaro of the Global Fund for Women, reiterated that the solutions include education for women and girls and improved economic opportunities, along with greater gender equality and increased security for women.  She also talked about the return on investment by supporting women’s empowerment, namely that educating women results in an educated child, family, and community.

Looking past Aspen, in London next week, the Gates Foundation and the UK government is gathering together an impressive group of people, including world leaders, the private sector,  and those who work on population and reproductive rights. The main goal is to increase global funding for family planning services.

Elias from the Gates Foundation said they plan to reach 120 million new women users of contraceptives between now and 2020.  The cost of this  undertaking will be $4.3 billion.

In addition to ensuring better access and supply of contraceptives and increased financial commitments from governments for family planning, the summit will also seek to build greater support for research into developing new contraceptives. Despite the disappointment in Rio, there is a lot of hope and excitement of things to come for women’s rights and empowerment and creating a positive picture on reproductive health and rights for all.  Stay tuned.  Or, as Scoop Nisker used to say, “if you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.”

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