Seventeen years ago, the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development focused attention on the need to account for gender roles, needs, and relations when designing policies and programs that address population, health and nutrition issues. Today, the issue of gender equality is still challenging the international community as it addresses family planning. Family planning programs seek to ensure that women and men can choose, obtain, and use a wide range of high quality, affordable contraceptive methods. The relationship and interaction between women and men plays a key role in whether or not they use a family planning method.
I attended a very interesting session today (Wednesday, November 30, 2011) at the 2011 International Conference on Family Planning, titled Family Planning and Gender Issues. These presentations discussed the extreme complexity of measuring gender equality and women’s empowerment. Gender and empowerment are socio-cultural constructs that are measured using complicated variables, such as women’s autonomy, household decision-making ability, access to and control over money, freedom of movement, and experience with domestic violence. One participant posed an insightful question: Do these variables reflect how women around the world define gender equality and empowerment?
Dr. Siân Curtis, Director of MEASURE Evaluation at University of North Carolina, noted that “gender equality doesn’t lend itself to the linear models of evaluation that we currently use.” For example, the use of contraceptives does not directly increase as women’s empowerment increases; the two variables do not have a direct statistical relationship.