Significant new financial pledges and other promises made at the groundbreaking Family Planning Summit held July 11 in London could have a major impact on the lives of women and girls for years to come, according to a new Guttmacher Institute analysis. Going forward, the challenge for all stakeholders will be to ensure that financial pledges made by donors and developing country governments materialize and that individual women's needs and rights remain at the core of the implementation phase.

"The summit set ambitious goals and, to the great credit of its organizers, exceeded them," says Susan Cohen, author of the new analysis. "The renewed political and financial commitment to international family planning is highly welcome, and millions of girls and women will reap the benefits as they become better able to achieve healthy pregnancies through proper birth timing and spacing, or to avoid pregnancy altogether. The summit provided a much-needed jolt, as family planning has been neglected as a global health priority over the past two decades."

The summit—organized and hosted by the United Kingdom and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—set goals to significantly reduce unmet need for contraception. Specifically, it aimed to help 120 million women in the world's poorest countries gain meaningful access to the information and modern contraceptive methods they need to decide for themselves when to become pregnant and how many children to have. A July 2012 report by Guttmacher and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that 222 million women in developing countries have an unmet need for contraception.

The summit came under criticism from some reproductive rights activists for setting aside the issue of unsafe abortion—a major cause of maternal death and injury in many developing countries—as well as for its seeming overemphasis on quantitative goals. These activists warned that focusing too much on numerical targets could open the door to the return of a discredited "population control" mentality and coercive practices on the ground.

"The summit's organizers were keenly aware of these concerns, and the theme that women's rights must be at the center of all implementation efforts was reinforced throughout the proceedings," says Cohen. "Even so, how this plays out going forward remains a legitimate concern that should be taken seriously by all involved."

Looking ahead to the nuts and bolts of the implementation efforts, Cohen argues that vigilance will be required to make sure that actions back up the commitments made. But, she notes, the initial signs are promising. Among many steps stakeholders committed to taking are:

  • increasing demand and support for family planning in a way that also removes barriers to access and use;
  • improving the supply and distribution of contraceptives;
  • developing new and better technologies, toward the goal of expanding real choice of methods;
  • monitoring and evaluating progress with a special focus on measuring improved quality of services and information to women to promote truly informed and voluntary choice; and
  • focusing on supporting advocacy around sustaining and increasing funding, but also on protecting and promoting global commitments to family planning within the ICPD framework for sexual and reproductive health and rights."

"The presence of so many dignitaries from around the globe at the summit made a powerful statement about the renewed political commitment to international family planning," says Cohen. "But the financial commitment was surprisingly strong, too."

Developing countries pledged $2 billion in new funding by 2020 for the wide array of activities that will be necessary to improve services to their own people. Donors—including governments, philanthropies and pharmaceutical companies—brought $2.6 billion in new pledges to the table, with the largest pledges coming from the British government (an additional $800 million by 2020) and the Gates Foundation (an additional $560 million over the same period). The United States—the single largest family planning donor at $610 million this year—did not commit new funds, but will step up its efforts in the area of contraceptive research and development.

Read the full article here: "London Summit Puts Family Planning Back on the Agenda; Offers New Lease on Life for Millions of Women and Girls," by Susan A. Cohen.

For more information:

Fact sheet: Costs and benefits of investing in contraceptive services in the developing world

Full report: Adding It Up: Costs and benefits of contraceptive services (2012 estimates)