Ever since the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD, 1994), access to safe and voluntary family planning methods has been recognized as a fundamental human right and a critical component of achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health. Access to and availability of family planning methods have a profound impact on the lives of women and their families, which go beyond health and include significant social and economic benefits.
By giving women and couples the freedom to plan the timing and the size of their families, family planning is recognized as a critical intervention that fosters women’s social and economic empowerment and egalitarian gender relations. Adoption of family planning can provide women with the opportunity to invest in education, acquire new skills and enter the labor force – raising their lifetime earnings and contribution to the family income, which in turn can influence household attitudes and behaviors that advance gender equality. Furthermore, these investments in education and participation in the labor force can translate into improved health and education outcomes for their children, ultimately breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty.
Despite these recognized benefits and increased investments to facilitate access to family planning services, the unmet need for modern contraception remains high in many parts of the world. Half of sexually active women of reproductive ages in developing countries had an unmet need for modern contraception in 2012, meaning that they did not want to become pregnant for at least two years or wanted to stop child bearing altogether but were not using a modern contraceptive method. These alarming figures point to the urgent need for innovative and improved approaches to meet the family planning needs of girls, women, and couples that are grounded in a firm understanding of their lives and the communities in which they live.
ICRW has been working to improve girls’ and women’s access to voluntary family planning for four decades. Our work spans a wide range of areas, including conducting research and developing tools to understand the barriers and enabling factors that women, girls and youth face in accessing and using modern contraceptive methods, as well as to inform program design, specifically helping partners incorporate gender-transformative and youth-friendly approaches.
ICRW has developed monitoring and evaluation frameworks for family planning programs; designed and tested new survey measures to improve understanding of the determinants of family planning use; and generated evidence to support greater investments in family planning by showing linkages between family planning use and socio-economic and health benefits for families and communities.
ICRW has been at the forefront of clarifying how reproductive empowerment, as well as broader women’s empowerment, can influence family planning and fertility, and vice versa. Similarly, through our work on gender, men and masculinities, couple communications and relationship quality and adolescent sexual and reproductive health needs, we continue to expand understanding on the broader context of girls’, women’s and young people’s lives, and on how programs can best cater to their diverse needs. We use the knowledge and evidence we generate to inform policies and programs and expand access to voluntary family planning, from the local to global levels.