In many developing countries, young women have little hope of acquiring an education. A lack of family planning education takes away important decision making skills and opportunities, better wages, and overall say in personal choices.

With roughly 16 million adolescent girls giving birth each year, and many of those in developing countries, most of these girls will lose out on education. Of these 16 million adolescent girls, those ages 15-19 will have children at a rate of up to 120 births per 1,000 girls.

But recently, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) set out to improve reproductive health education and services, specifically for young girls and adolescents ages 15-19. By working with eight African countries – the Democratic Republic of the CongoEthiopia, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, and Tanzania, the UN organ will address female health through increased reproductive education over the next three years. They plan to create programs for young women in order to better prepare them for life as an adult woman.

The UNFPA’s education service will work towards teaching young girls the dangers of childbirth complications, pregnancy, and dangerous abortion procedures. In doing so, they hope these young girls will incorporate these lessons in their decisions related to pregnancy, marriage, and education, among other facets of life.

The purpose of the UNFPA’s work is to improve women’s health, and provide them with the ability to be independent when it comes to personal health decisions. As Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA Executive Director, said, “What we are trying to do is to create an army of young women who would have access to comprehensive sexual education, who would be able to have access to services, who also would be able to make choices in their lives and who would have access to education … so they can develop their full potential.”

Another reproductive issue, HIV contraction, remains a pressing issue for women’s health initiatives. Pregnancy and HIV related deaths still play a large part in women’s life expectancy in many countries. With UNFPA’s current program, they look to education and services as a reinforcement for young girls to stay in school. The belief is that if girls receive reproductive education, they will stay in school. If they stay in school, they won’t marry and have their first child at such a young age. By pushing back sexual interaction to a later age, reproductive related injuries and sexually transmitted diseases will inherently decline and thus reduce deaths.

Since 2007, UNFPA has been working with low income countries to improve access to contraceptive commodities, as well as financial and technical support for these service programs. During the past six years, their efforts have increased and improved reproductive health services with a focus on distributive infrastructure to make sure contraceptives and medicines reach their destination, which, in turn, will increase general access for the public. However, in UNFPA’s new three year program, education follows these services. The hope remains that increased family planning education will lead to increased use of current services, and young women’s overall reproductive health will improve.

– Michael Carney 
Sources: Trust, UNFPA
Photo: IPS

It_takes_twoGlobal Citizen has recently launched a new initiative called It Takes Two – its goal is to spread awareness of the necessity of contraceptives and family planning for millions of women around the world that currently have no access to these programs. In developing countries, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are some of the leading causes of death for women. Early and frequent pregnancies also prevent women from advancing their opportunities for education and economic self-sufficiency.

At the London Family Planning Summit in July 2012, NGOs and donors came together to pledge money to halve the number of women without access to modern family planning by 2020. According to Global Citizen, however, “without proving there is demand for increased access to family planning services and information, there is a high risk these pledges won’t be honored”. If funded as promised, these pledges would provide around 120 million women with the information and services they need to plan their own lives. Further benefits could be seen in a dramatically reduced number of unintended pregnancies, as well as a reduced number of maternal and newborn deaths caused by complications with pregnancy and childbirth.

With these modern family planning services accessible to more women in the developing world, more women will have more time available to them. This means that less time will be spent with unwanted pregnancies and raising children, and more girls and women will be able to gain an education as well as enter the workforce and increase productivity as well as economic stability. Access to contraception and information about family planning is imperative for gender equality. It Takes Two encourages support for improved family planning from both men and women around the world in order to make gender inequalities a thing of the past. The first step the initiative has taken to gauge support from the public is to circulate a petition calling for government and organizations to make access to family planning a priority in developing nations.

In order to achieve equality, It Takes Two wants to fight not only for contraceptive provision, but also for the eradication of early and forced marriage, to keep girls in school, and to end gender-based violence. Matti Navellou, the campaign manager for It Takes Two, encourages the use of social media and the Internet to spread information and support for the project saying “It’s time to unlock the potential of technology for social good.”

The site also gives the opportunity to design and share personalized condoms, and the top ten designers will receive a few condoms of their own designs for free. The act of designing a condom wrapper itself also enters the creator into a drawing for a chance to win tickets to a concert from over 70 artists. Design and share for your chance to win, but more importantly for the chance for millions of women to receive the care they need to do greater things in life, and for a step closer to gender equality.

– Sarah Rybak
Sources: Take Part, Global Citizen
Photo: Take Part

Trading Superbowl Snacks for Reproductive Care

Certain international organizations with an eye on global health claim that if the United States’ contributed its ‘fair share’ to global family planning aid, it would cost little more than one bag of chips per person per year.

Right now, there are 222 million women across the globe reporting unmet reproductive health needs, most of which are concentrated in the developing world. The sum of the money required to give all of these women access to reproductive health care, such as contraceptives, prenatal and maternity care and vaccines, is equivalent to what Americans spend on Superbowl snacks each year.

How does this work? PAI maintains that it would cost the U.S. one billion dollars to commit its share towards responding to the unmet global health needs. Meeting this goal would cost the average U.S. taxpayer around 3 dollars per year, or less than one cent per day.

Population Action International (PAI) is an organization that advocates for increased universal access to contraception in order to improve the health and quality of life of women and families. PAI argues that the United States must play a key role in shaping the future of global reproductive care if the movement is to succeed.

PAI instructs that spending merely one dollar on reproductive health benefits is an investment that will have positive spill-over effects that will benefit the women in developing countries who receive the aid as well as the entire global community in the long run. Spending a dollar on global reproductive health can consequently save four dollars in other sectors like health care, education, and sanitation.

By trading honey-roasted peanuts for prenatal care, the United States can be saving money as it saves lives.

The next time you reach for the family-size bag of tortilla chips in your grocery store, think of how those three dollars could be spent otherwise: to change a woman’s life, provide a child’s future, or give a country hope.

– Alexandra Bruschi

Source: Population Action International Policymic

Victoria’s Secret Model Erin Heatherton has teamed up with the Global Poverty Project for a new campaign called, It Takes Two. The campaign aims to raise awareness of, increase demand for, and improve access to family planning information and services around the world. The announcement coincides with the Women Deliver Global Conference in Kuala Lumpur to discuss the global health and empowerment of girls and women.

Erin Heatherton and the It Takes two campaign aim to motivate young men and women to take action in support of improving access to family planning services and information. They hope this will place pressure on governments, and to strive for significant progress and change.

Hugh Evans, co-founder and CEO of The Global Poverty Project believes that women are being denied a fundamental right when they are denied access to contraception. It Takes Two will utilize the Global Poverty Project’s online Global Citizen Platform to track and engage people.

The initiative is partnered with Women Deliver. Founder of Women Deliver, Jill Sheffield, has expressed her excitement to be a part of the campaign. She is looking forward to working with a project to help motivate countries to achieve their Family Planning 2020 goals and commitments. She believes that girls, boys, women and men all need to demand that their governments distribute family planning information and services. Sheffield believes this will give women more power and control over their lives.

Heatherton is also excited about her capacity to be part of such an important project. She feels that the lack of modern contraception to many women around the world is one of the world most pressing matters. She also believes that lack of contraception affects men and women, as well as a problem that should not be affected by a family’s socio-economic status. Everyone deserves fair access to family planning methods.

It Takes Two will launch first in the United States and second in Uganda. It will later expand to eight other countries. It is partnered with IPPF, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, UNFPA, Marie Stopes International and more.

– Caitlin Zusy
Source: Artist Direct
Photo: Global Poverty Project Tumblr

Expanded Contraceptive Access
At the Women Deliver 2013 conference, one of the topics discussed was expanding contraceptive access in developing countries in Africa. The session was led by Melinda Gates and United Nations Population Fund, and the speakers discussed ways to reach women to create a strategy that would provide them greater access to forms of birth control. Melinda Gates explained that improving access to birth control would not only improve the women’s lives, it would also make their children healthier and would allow for a thriving family.

Also at the session, several political leaders discussed some of the success stories of implementing birth control access. Countries such as Senegal, the Philippines, Zambia, Indonesia, and Malawi have all taken the initiative to promote progress in the field of family planning and have had great success. Senegal’s budget for their national family planning program has doubled since November 2012. After 15 years, the Philippines was finally able to pass the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act, Zambia created their first family planning program, Indonesia increased funding available for contraceptives, and Malawi also strengthened their family planning program.

The leaders explained that these success stories should be proof that expanding contraceptive access is doable and can save lives, and it’s also very cost-effective. Not only will birth control help improve the lives of the current generation of mothers and babies, implementing a long-term and sustainable plan will improve the lives of the next generations as well.

To ensure that the efforts will remain strong, the Global Poverty Project’s CEO Hugh Evans has announce the It Takes Two campaign, which encourages young men and women to support family planning programs and services, as well as for them to make sure their government continues to support the programs.

Katie Brockman

Source: allAfrica

Birth Rates Decrease As People Rise Out of Poverty
Many people argue that deaths resulting from poverty are an unfortunate solution to overpopulation. They assume that raising families out of poverty will only give them more resources to support ever more children. However, the evidence actually shows that birth rates decrease as people rise out of poverty. This is because parents are often forced by high child mortality rates to have several children to ensure that they will have someone to care for them as they age. When these families are no longer living in extreme poverty, they can be more confident that their children will survive, allowing them to have fewer children. According to the World Health Organization, both the actual death and the fear of death of a child results in higher fertility rates, regardless of a family’s size or income level.

Over the last two decades, reduced levels of extreme poverty in numerous countries, including Guatemala, Cambodia, and Namibia, has coincided with a decrease in average family size to about half. Since the 1960s, Latin American women’s fertility rates have decreased from about 6 to between 2 and 3. This has resulted from decreased child mortality rates, as well as improved maternal health and family planning education in many areas. USAID has been instrumental in helping many Latin American countries, such as the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, start family planning programs. Most of these programs have become self-sustaining and are preparing for USAID’s gradual departure.

While poverty is an extremely reliable indicator and contributing cause of high birth rates, a society’s treatment of women must also be considered. In societies where women are disenfranchised, birth rates tend to be high and inflexible. This shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise, given that in these societies girls are taken out of school at a young age, females are often victims of multiple forms of violence, and most women have minimal knowledge of or power to enact family planning strategies. Many women are essentially forced into prolonged motherhood, which can be incredibly damaging to their health, as well as their children’s. With improved family planning education around the world, the lives of 1.6 million children under five could be saved each year.

A woman’s education level is an excellent indicator of her fertility. Well-educated women are much more likely to have smaller families. It is important to note that the education of women does not necessarily cause lower fertility rates. Instead, education is just one aspect of improved social standing for women, and it is likely that this improved status leads to smaller families, not to mention improved women’s health in general.

It is essential to recognize that decreasing levels of extreme poverty will also help minimize the problem of overpopulation. When families no longer live in fear of unacceptable child mortality rates, they decrease their fertility levels. Part of this effort to decrease birth rates also includes family planning education for both men and women and improved societal standing for women.

– Katie Fullerton

Sources: USAID, USAID Blog, Population Institute, Global Issues
Photo: Hatter

History of the UNFPA
The UNFPA was originally introduced as the UN Fund for Population Activities. The fund began as a trust fund in July of 1967. Its administration was entrusted to the United Nations Development Program.  In 1972 the program was placed under the General Assembly’s authority and the UNDP Governing Council was named as its governing body. In 1987, the name was changed to the United Nations Population Fund.

The UNFPA has a unique role within the UN system. It is responsible for addressing population and development issues. They emphasize reproductive health and gender equality. Much of the fund’s construction stems from the ICPD Programme of Action as well as the Millennium Development Goals. The fund receives policy guidance from the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council, also known as ECOSOC. The fund works closely with other developmental organizations such as the WHO, UNICEF, UNDP, and UNAIDS.

The UNFPA touts five main goals: achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health, promoting reproductive rights, reducing maternal mortality, and accelerating progress on the ICPD agenda and MGD’s. Additionally, they advocate for human rights and gender equality. The UNFPA helps governments conduct countrywide censuses, population and development-related research, and analysis on topics such as migration, aging, climate change, and urbanization.

The UNFPA works with governments, other UN agencies, local communities, NGOs, foundations, and the private sector to raise awareness and mobilize support and resources to achieve its mission. In 2007, the UNFPA decentralized its operations and became a more field centered, efficient and strategic partner, executing real and important work on the ground.

In 2011, the UNFPA restructured again. The center of their plan was based on advancing the right to sexual and reproductive health by accelerating progress towards the MGD aimed at improving maternal health. They have recently placed their emphasis on reducing maternal deaths and achieving universal access to reproductive health, including family planning and access to family planning methods for women.  At this time, the UNFPA is striving to improve the lives of underserved populations, especially women and young people. They are working towards this through their expertise in population dynamics, human rights, and gender equality.

– Caitlin Zusy 

Source UNFPA

Largest Global Anti-Poverty Organization

BRAC assists “138 million of the poorest people in nine countries in Asia and Africa,” yet few people have ever heard of the global anti-poverty organization. BRAC began as the Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee but has expanded to multiple countries.  Though BRAC is no longer an acronym, it has become a synonym for progress.

The organization works to alleviate poverty through empowerment. It is the largest global anti-poverty organization. BRAC provides opportunities for self-improvement, such as self-employment and financial aid. Its economic programs created 8.5 million self-employment opportunities, and BRAC has issued over $5 billion in micro-loans.

Education is key to mitigating poverty in future generations. The organization created over 66,000 schools to meet the needs of primary and pre-primary children. To date, the schools have graduated over 6.1 million students.

Furthermore, the organization itself employs over 125,000 people in Asia and Africa. Many of the employees are first time job holders, and BRAC teaches them necessary skills.  “As a job-creator and employer of scale and diversity, we teach people the basics of customer service, and how to be productive employees,” said Susan Davis, President and CEO, BRAC USA.

BRAC engages diasporas for economic and social development. The organization realizes the value of local people.  Instead of Americans instructing people on how to improve their communities, the organization starts by training people from the country in need.  After successfully completing the program, trainers return home with new skill sets.  These individuals communicate their success stories and encourage others to strive for better lives.

One of BRAC’s unique strengths involves creating new markets.  The organization trains 100,000 health and other promoters to achieve self-employment.  Promoters work with “legal services (property rights), poultry and livestock services, and energy services.”  The jobs vary based on the specific needs of the communities.  Each position interacts with people to teach vital subjects, such as agriculture, family planning, and disease prevention.

The organization “has remained relatively unknown in the West…because it developed on the local level in the poorest, most remote communities of Bangladesh.”  It originated in communities and developed gradually.  Fazle Hasan Abed created BRAC “when he was overwhelmed by the sight of death and extreme poverty among refugees returning to Bangladesh after the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh.” He fled the corporate life and employed all of his resources to launch BRAC.  Today, his vision has improved the lives of millions of people.  Talk about a visionary.

Whitney M. Wyszynski

Source: Fast Company