Family Planning and Education Are Key for Women Worldwide
Why family planning and education for young girls and women is so vital.
Posted Feb 19, 2020
In a northern state in India, known as Uttar Pradesh, a woman named Meena has just met her newborn child. She is joyful while breastfeeding in the crucial hours after giving birth to a healthy little one. She gave birth with help from the Sure Start program, which helps mothers give birth in clinics, assisted by a birth attendant and with the right equipment.
Now, consider yourself going to congratulate her on the good news. By joining, chances are you’ll share in her state of elation, as most couples cry at delivery from tears of joy. But, if the scene doesn’t already pull at your heartstrings, this might: Imagine Meena asks you to take her newborn child with you. Not only her newborn but her other little one as well.
Meena faces an uncertain future in an impoverished area in India without the means to secure education for her children and without assurance they will be okay with her as their mother. Meena herself hasn’t heard about family planning services or accessing contraceptives until now. “It’s too late for me,” she says.
Ultimately, Meena’s hopes for a brighter future for her babies. The uncertainty is too difficult to bear. Make no mistake—Meena is a mother in search of help for her family.
Why Can’t We Provide the Help Meena Needs?
Today, childbirth is the leading cause of death for teenage girls, aged 15 to 19, around the world.
As a result of cultural biases, child marriages, and impoverished conditions, girls as young as 9 years of age are married and face pregnancy in their teenage years in countries like Niger and Senegal. When they are married off, the promises of education fall to the curb and early motherhood often becomes their destiny.
Young mothers lacking an education, studies show, are less able to avoid poverty, avoid premature illness or death, or keep their families healthy. Families thrive less—and the world is a less healthy place—when young mothers continue to have child after child, often without knowing the means by which they might survive. A cycle of poverty and hardship can ensue.
How can we help mothers like Meena? Through family planning services—at least, by one measure.
The definition of family planning (in part by the Kaiser Family Foundation) is: the ability of individuals and couples to anticipate and attain their desired number of children and the spacing and timing of births through the use of modern contraception. As defined by the United Nations Population Fund, abortion is not viewed as a component of family planning.
What Are We Doing to Provide Family Planning to Those Who Need It?
Born out of the London Summit on Family Planning in 2012, the Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) program aimed to increase access to contraceptives to 120 million women and girls worldwide in the poorest countries by 2020. Currently, 53 million more women and girls are using modern contraception than were doing so in 2012.
The FP2020 program states that, in line with country strategies to deliver family planning services, 10 dimensions of family planning are supported, including but not limited to: accessibility, acceptability, quality, empowerment, and voice and participation.
If enacted, the program’s vision could help break biases and rebuild perspective on the value of girls and women in society. But what is certain is that the impact of family planning services and education goes far. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, one-third of global maternal deaths—roughly 100,000 deaths—could be prevented annually “if women who did not wish to become pregnant had access to and used effective contraception.” FP2020 has helped guide national governments in many countries to deliver such efforts.
FP2020 Country Examples
According to the World Bank and Jhpiego, respectively, Afghanistan has the highest maternal mortality ratio (MMR) in South Asia at 638 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births; Afghanistan aims to achieve 30 percent modern contraceptive prevalence among married women by 2020 under FP2020. It is unclear whether Afghanistan has met its 2020 targets yet since joining FP2020 in 2016.
Niger, located in central Africa, has had an uptake of 350,000 additional women using contraceptives since joining FP2020 in 2012, with 760,000 women now reporting use; however, a 21 percent unmet need remains in Niger today even with the efforts by FP2020.
As made evident by Afghanistan and countries like Niger, it is clear that FP2020 still has much progress to make. As of mid-2019, an estimated 214 million women worldwide still have an unmet need for modern contraception; for comparison, the size of this unreached population equates to roughly two-thirds of the U.S. population. FP2020 workshops in Asia and Africa this year, in part, will reveal newer country-led strategies aimed to reach 120 million in uptake of modern contraceptives by women and girls by 2030; more clearly, the revised strategies will strive to reach the initial 2020 goal by the 2030 deadline of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to a 2019 Devex report.
SDGs on Family Planning
SDG 3.7 says, “By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information, and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes.”
In order to ensure “universal access” to family planning services by 2030, funding, planning, collaboration, and leadership will be essential by stakeholders in low and middle-income countries. What else is needed among young girls? A strong education.
SDGs on Education of Girls
SDG 4.1 says, “By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable, and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.”
Currently, the United Nations for Women (UN Women) states that up to 48 percent of young girls are out of school in some regions. Education of young women is key, especially in low-income settings such as Afghanistan and Niger. Studies show that education of young women helps them to avert poverty, reduce rates of illness and death, and keep their families healthy.
In order to reach more young girls, leadership and advocacy efforts by partners such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) are vital. Further, investments in education—and closing of its gender gap—by national governments and philanthropic organizations are critical.
Reaching more young girls via primary and secondary education, combined with family planning services, is akin to strengthening families all over the world—including those like Meena’s.
Consider the power of ending cultural biases, child marriages, and impoverished conditions through universal access to family planning services. Consider what it would mean to end the cycle of poverty via continued education throughout girls’ youth and teenage years. These are the tools or building blocks to lead toward a healthier and vibrant future for all.
Please note: Meena’s story is a real-life story from The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates (see reference below). It is included in this post in order to show the importance of family planning services for women and girls in impoverished settings.
Melinda Gates, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, Bluebird, London, 2019.
Hope Through Healing Hands, The Mother & Child Project: Raising Our Voices for Health and Hope, Zondervan, Michigan, 2015.