Honoring World Contraception Day: How to Unleash Power and Change Amidst Population Growth

Kate Stence

K4Health, CCP | Comm. Manager

Editor's Note: In Honor of World Contraception Day, this blog highlights the experience of Victoria Flores Fernandes from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Department of Population, Family, and Reproductive Health, and Patricia Poppe, Regional Director of the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Communications Programs, at UNFPA's recent event, 7 Billion People: Counting on Each Other—Unleashing the Power of Women and Girls.

Nigeria’s former Minister of Health and currently Executive Director of UNFPA, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, recently called on developing countries to urgently address the needs of women and girls as world population reaches 7 billion.

Dr. Osotimehin was speaking at an event in Washington, D.C. on September 13 entitled “7 Billion People: Counting on Each Other—Unleashing the Power of Women and Girls.” It was part of the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) 7 Billion Actions campaign.

As our planet’s population reaches 7 billion people, it is increasingly made up of young people, 90% of whom live in the developing world. In these countries, girls get married very early in life and, in turn, get pregnant at a young age. Dr. Osotimehin cited a recent article that "nine hundred million young women are living without access to education and health, they bear children too early, are excluded from concepts of active, political citizenship and awareness of their place as possible leaders in the global community."

Beyond the health risks women and girls are less likely to continue their education, and have less earning potential for themselves and their families. Essentially, they have little to no chance of ever reaching their potential. Dr. Osotimehin called for empowering girls through education and providing them with other opportunities for human development. A crucial component of this strategy is to delay marriage and childbearing through family planning.

Lois Quam, Executive Director of the Global Health Initiative (GHI), reinforced this call to action by stating that we must invest in women and girls because when they are educated and empowered, they are engines of change. She underlined the importance of working toward gender equity through integrating health services to provide reproductive health and family planning services, HIV, and nutrition services to all women and girls. Quam stated that the Global Health Initiative (GHI), along with the Clinton Health Access Initiative, believes that reproductive health and family planning is a basic right. Other organizations that support this mission include the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health and United States Agency for International Development (USAID). She closed her speech by saying that not only is making this investment in women and girls a smart thing to do, it is also the right thing to do.

Don Steinberg, USAID’s Deputy Administrator said gender and striving toward gender equity is part of USAID’s DNA, and that every project is intended to have an impact on gender with measureable goals. A panel discussion followed the presentations and participants included Phil Hay of the World Bank; Ronan Farrow, Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for Global Youth Issues; and Alexandra Garita from the International Women’s Health Coalition. The panel discussed the need for schools for girls in which health, sexual education, and skills would be taught with the goal of empowerment. They also suggested that countries put in place a task force from each sector of government to ensure that no women or girls are left behind. To learn more about gender equity in developing nations, explore the following Knowledge for Health Toolkits: Gender and Health, Go Girls, or Youth Policy.

From September 20-25, the Knowledge for Health Project will also be holding youth forums leading up to the International Family Planning Conference in Dakar, Senegal with the focus, Rapidly Growing Youth Populations and Their Implications for Family Planning and Other Health and Development Programs.