Family Planning: Crucial for Achieving the SDGs
USAID has supported family planning programs since 1965. As we move toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the post-2015 development agenda, commitment to family planning must remain a key element of the global agenda.
Voluntary family planning advances the right of all women to decide freely, and for themselves, whether, when, and how many children they want to have. Yet in 2014, estimates indicated that 225 million women in low- and middle-income countries had an unmet need for a modern contraceptive method, meaning they want to stop or delay childbearing but are not using modern contraceptive methods.
Women with unmet need are more likely to have unintended or mistimed pregnancies. As a result, they and their children face avoidable and potentially severe risks to their health and quality of life. Voluntary family planning is key to USAID’s mission of ending extreme poverty. It is an essential component of USAID’s health priorities of Ending preventable maternal and child death and Achieving an AIDS-free generation. It contributes directly to SDG 3 (“Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”) and SDG 5 (“Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”). Family planning lowers the number of unintended pregnancies, thereby reducing the number of times a woman is exposed to pregnancy-related health risks. It also reduces the proportion of pregnancies that are high risk (those that occur too early or late in age, are too closely spaced, or are considered too many). Analyses indicate that by 2020, family planning could help prevent approximately seven million under-five deaths and 450,000 maternal deaths in USAID’s priority countries.
While family planning contributes most directly to SDGs 3 and 5, it is also a crucial determinant for achieving all 17 goals. The benefits of family planning to women, families, communities, and societies are myriad:
- Well-spaced births facilitate longer breastfeeding, and thus can positively influence nutrition outcomes such as improved infant and young child feeding practices and reduced likelihood of stunting.
- By helping adolescent girls delay pregnancy until they are older, family planning can prevent obstetrical complications and poor birth outcomes for mothers and newborns and help girls stay in school.
- By preventing pregnancies among women older than 35 and women who have more than four children, family planning can prevent deaths of women in childbirth.
- By slowing population growth, family planning can contribute to lower levels of energy use and thereby reduce greenhouse gas emissions, impacting climate change.
- Coupled with supportive policies, family planning can enable the demographic dividend (the rapid economic growth that can come from lowering the ratio of dependents to income-earners).
- Having fewer children increases women’s likelihood of entering the workforce and allows families to invest more resources in each child.
- Fertility decline and the resulting older population structure have been shown to significantly increase the probability of attaining and maintaining a liberal democracy.
If we hope to achieve the SDGs, family planning must be a priority. Empowering women and couples to make informed, voluntary decisions about whether, when, and how many children to have has the potential to generate extraordinary transformational benefits across the world.
Views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors. They do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the United States Agency for International Development.