News

Ensuring Universal Access to Family Planning: a Health, Development and Human Rights Issue!

16 July 2018

Chongwe District, Lusaka Province: Equated to access to clean drinking water, adequate sanitation and a minimum standard of health care, access to family planning is a human right. It is the means and methods that allow individuals to obtain voluntary information and services to enable them decide the number and spacing of their children.

Evidence shows when women and men are empowered to plan the number and spacing of their children, the following benefits can accrue at individual, family, community, as well as the entire nation:

  • Mothers and babies are healthier, because pregnancies will be spaced and childbearing will be delayed until a woman becomes an adult.
  • Young women and men are better enabled to pursue and complete their education.
  • Women are empowered to improve their economic status and livelihood, with multiplier effects for their families and children, who in turn have greater opportunities to receive better education. The overall benefits at the household level can be transferred well into future generations.
  • When a woman is able to plan her family, she can also contribute more to national and global prosperity, including poverty reduction and achievement of national/global development goals.

When Unmet Need for Family Planning Becomes a Health, Development and Human Rights Challenge

In many parts of Zambia, particularly in rural areas, a number of challenges hinder women, men and young people from accessing family planning services. These include long distances to health facilities; limited knowledge about the various family planning methods that exist; various myths and misconceptions about the use of family planning; while many women are not empowered to have a say about if, when or how often to have children.

The story of Taonga* represents the 1 in every 5 sexually active women (21%) who want to use family planning but experience challenges to do so. This is known as “unmet need for family planning” and leads to thousands of unintended pregnancies occurring each year.

Taonga* and her husband James* are peasant farmers and parents to 5 children with limited access to health services, including family planning.  Through community mobilization, Taonga* became aware of the benefits of planning her family and began accessing injectable contraceptives. However, doing so is far from easy. Every three months it takes her 4 hours to walk across two hills to get to the nearest family planning service delivery point and back – a distance of about 40 kilometers. James* is uncomfortable about his wife leaving the house and their children unattended, as the journey to the clinic takes up most of her day.

This has occasionally led to misunderstandings between the couple, despite the fact that James* now understands the benefits of family planning and supports his wife in doing so.

Making Every Pregnancy Wanted and Ending Unmet Need for Family Planning

I understand the benefits of family planning and I support my wife in doing so. It has enabled us to plan for the livelihood of our family and devote resources to the education and health of each of our children...

The experiences of women such as Taonga* have facilitated enhanced actions aimed at addressing critical bottlenecks to universal access to family planning commodities, particularly in underserved and hard to reach areas, up to the last mile. These have included the training of Community-Based Distributors (CBDs), as well as creating awareness on the benefits of family planning to increase access among underserved populations.

Mathew* and Rose* are among hundreds of women and men who have benefitted from such intensified actions by Government and its partners, including UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

Sharing experiences on the benefits of family planning during Zambia’s commemoration of the 2018 World Population Day on 11 July 2018 under the theme “Family Planning is a Human Right”, Mathew highlights…“I understand the benefits of family planning and I support my wife in doing so. It has enabled us to plan for the livelihood of our family and devote resources to the education and health of each of our children”.

Mathew* and Rose* sharing their experience on the benefits of family planning during Zambia’s commemoration of the 2018 World Population Day on 11 July 2018 in rural Chongwe District

Family Planning saves lives! Working together, we can make universal access to Family Planning a reality!

  • As policy makers: Recognizing the direct contributions of family planning to nearly all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, there is need to explore beyond the ordinary; identify and explore new opportunities and foster critical partnerships; ensure strong institutions and effective systems; secure sustainable financing; as well as define accountability mechanisms, to ensure universal access to Family Planning.
  • As service providers: We have seen firsthand the benefits of family planning in the lives of clients we serve. There is further need to use data to guide efficient planning to identify and provide quality services, including underserved and hard to reach communities; as well as sustain awareness creation on the health, social and economic benefits of family planning to inform positive health seeking behavior and actions by communities.
  • As community and traditional leaders: Our support is needed to inform and empower women, men and young people, including vulnerable groups to access family planning, as well as address any myths and misconceptions around family planning.
  • As women, men and young people: Our proactive actions to seek sexual reproductive health information and services, including family planning is very key while ensuring available services by health workers within your communities. For our men and young boys, male involvement is critical in support of our mothers, sisters, and aunts etc, to ensure they access family planning services without discrimination.