Partnership in Action: A Postcard from FP2020’s Second Asia Regional Focal Point Workshop

Advocating for Family Planning Policy

Beth Schlachter

FP2020 | Executive Director

Chonghee Choi Hwang

FP2020 | Manager, Asia, Country Support

This piece originally appeared on FP2020's Medium publication.

Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) is, at heart, a community of practice: a working partnership where government officials, donors, civil society representatives, and technical experts can roll up their sleeves and figure out how to strengthen and expand high-quality family planning programs. At our second Asia Regional Focal Point Workshop in Manila on May 8-10, we had the incredible privilege of witnessing this powerful process in action. Our work together is more relevant than ever given the challenges our community continues to face, as exemplified by the U.S. government’s budget proposal to cut all funding for international family planning as well as release of implementation guidance on the reinstated and expanded Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy, formerly known as the Mexico City policy.

The workshop was attended by delegates from 11 countries—Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands, and Vietnam—along with representatives from the United Nations Population Fund, the United States Agency for International Development, the UK Department for International Development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organization, and a range of other technical partners.

For the FP2020 partnership it was a landmark event in a number of respects.

Showing Solidarity

This was the first FP2020 meeting convened in the Philippines, a country that has endured one of the most restrictive political climates for family planning in the world. That context was never far from our minds throughout the workshop, and the more than 75 participants who gathered in Manila represented a demonstration of solidarity with the Philippines’ reproductive health community and with the global family planning movement.

Philippines Health Secretary and FP2020 Reference Group Member, Paulyn Jean B. Rosell-Ubial, captured this mood in her welcoming remarks to the workshop, which were delivered by Under Secretary Herminigildo Valle. “That you have chosen our country as the site for this workshop is quite apt and timely,” she noted, and described the “optimism and new hope” that the Philippines’ Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law, which has been blocked by the Supreme Court, will finally be implemented.

Dr. Junice Melgar, FP2020 Focal Point and Executive Director of the Likhaan Center for Women’s Health in Manila

Dr. Junice Melgar, FP2020 Focal Point and Executive Director of the Likhaan Center for Women’s Health in Manila

Dr. Junice Melgar, the executive director of the Likhaan Center for Women's Health in Manila, spoke about Likhaan’s history of providing desperately-needed family planning services despite fierce political and religious opposition. Dr. Melgar has been a leader in the fight for reproductive rights in the Philippines for over 20 years, and she offered a powerful message about the importance of holding course for the greater good and maintaining forward momentum in the face of severe obstruction.

Focusing on Rights-Based Family Planning

The workshop was also noteworthy for the unprecedented focus on implementing a human rights-based approach to family planning. The first day of the conference set the tone, with rights experts walking the group through what rights-based family planning means and what it looks like programmatically. The emphasis was on the concrete: How do we use rights as a lens to develop programs? What are the outcomes we’re looking for? The rights-based framework informed the entire workshop, with every topic linking back to it.

Subsequent sessions continued the theme of real-world, hands-on application: understanding data and using it effectively to guide programming and investments; implementing evidence-based high-impact practices; designing programs that meet the needs of young people; and mobilizing resources for family planning, including domestic government investment, private sector channels, and the Global Financing Facility.

After a day and a half of expert panels, the country delegations spent the remainder of the workshop developing their Country Action Plans for 2017-2018 (which will be published on FP2020 country webpages soon). Each action plan serves more or less as the country’s FP2020 “to do” list for the next 18 months, outlining priorities and actions that are in alignment with its overall family planning strategy. The CSO forum that followed built upon the momentum generated throughout the workshop, kickstarting development of plans that are aligned with national and family planning goals, and culminating with a group song of solidarity—John Lennon’s Imagine—and a strong sense of accomplishment for all.

AFPW meeting

With civil society at the table, every discussion became more grounded.

Engaging Civil Society

This was also the first FP2020 workshop to include civil society focal points in each country delegation, alongside focal points representing the government and donor agencies. The workshop solidified an important practice of gathering civil society organizations (CSOs) following FP2020 regional workshops for a day-long forum dedicated entirely to in-depth learning and planning around in-country advocacy. Including CSOs in the FP2020 focal point structure better reflects how family planning programs really work: In most countries civil society organizations play essential roles as program implementers, technical experts, policy advisors, and public advocates. The Philippines is a good example: Civil society groups like Likhaan are at the very center of the country’s reproductive health sector.

With civil society at the table, every discussion became more grounded. For example, during a session on costed implementation plans—the national planning documents that serve as roadmaps for family planning program development—civil society representatives were able to question governments about their priorities, hear directly from donors about their funding constraints, and see first-hand how and why programs take shape the way they do.

This workshop and the CSO forum that followed embodied a notable evolution in the FP2020 partnership and platform. These gatherings provide a much-needed venue for discussion and deep thinking, collaboration and alignment that did not exist before. This truly is partnership in action: It is what we were built to do—in good times and in bad—on behalf of all those who need, want, and envision a brighter, more empowered tomorrow for women and girls everywhere.