This post by Ellen Starbird, originally appeared on the USAID Impact Blog. Starbird discusses her impressions of the recent International Conference on Family Planning and the importance of having women in leadership roles in family plannng. She mentions the USAID/Bangladesh Mission specifically, whose work with K4Health on an eHealth pilot was recently highlighted on the same blog.
For more coverage of the International Conference on Family Planning, visit the USAID Newsroom and K4Health partner sites FHI 360's ICFPLive, MSH at the 2013 International Conference on Family Planning, IntraHealth International, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomber School of Public Health Center for Communications Programs.
I’ve just returned from the International Conference on Family Planning in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where thousands of leaders and experts came together to discuss how to improve access and choice in family planning services across the globe. One of the highlights of the conference for me was speaking on a panel about the role women leaders can play in this arena.
I don’t think you have to be a woman to be committed to achieving equity in access to family planning services. There are countless men in leadership roles that are deeply committed to expanding equity across the board, including in access to family planning. That said, I think having women in leadership positions is incredibly important.
Mother and child at a health clinic in Ethiopia. Photo credit: USAID
We often talk about women leaders as role models for girls. Certainly having women in leadership roles lets girls see someone who looks like them doing things they might dream of doing and helps validate those dreams. But women in leadership positions are role models for boys too—that women belong in leadership positions, that having women in these roles is normative. Having women in leadership roles in government is an especially public acknowledgement of legitimacy.
Governments have a responsibility to treat their citizens equitably, which means they have a special role to play in addressing disparities, whether that is as a direct provider of health services or by making it attractive for the private sector to serve the underserved or both. When governments prioritize making it possible for poor women, rural families, adolescents, and racial or ethnic minorities to exercise their right to choose the number, timing, and spacing of their children by expanding access to high quality, voluntary family planning information, services, and methods, they send a message about their commitment to equity and rights.