Rights and Empowerment

The ambitious goal announced at the London Summit proved catalytic in many ways, ushering in renewed interest in and funding for family planning and eliciting global commitments to provide more women with access to the services and programs they want and need.

Significantly, it also emphasized a new approach that called for using human rights principles as the foundation of all family planning activities, including those focused on generating demand, meeting unmet need, and improving quality of care. The promise of rights-based family planning (RBFP) programming has led global and country actors to interrogate their programs and practices to ensure that the rights of the client are upheld and that the principles of agency, access, availability of contraceptives, and quality of care are rigorously observed.

In the years since the London Summit, several guidelines for RBFP have been developed that provide principles, entry points, and solid programming advice to help countries and practitioners develop family planning programs that respect and protect human rights. These include frameworks from the World Health Organization, the Evidence Project, the Population Council, and EngenderHealth, as well as FP2020’s Rights and Empowerment Principles for Family Planning (see box).

FP2020'S Rights and Empowerment Principles
for Family Planning

Agency and Autonomy
Equity and Non-discrimination
Informed Choice
Transparency and Accountability
Voice and ParticipationLearn more about FP2020’s Rights and Empowerment Principles for Family Planning

These guidelines have drawn interest from country stakeholders because of their emphasis on serving individuals and communities while also acknowledging the importance of an enabling environment and supply-side factors.

A growing number of implementing partners are injecting a rights approach into new and existing programs, resulting in the first evidence about what it takes to operationalize RBFP and measure the difference it can make in programs, progress, and people’s lives.

Several of the FP2020 Core Indicators provide a glimpse into issues of agency and autonomy, quality, availability, and informed choice across the 69 focus countries. The National Composite Index for Family Planning, a survey developed by Track20 in 2015, attempts to capture the extent to which national family planning programs address issues of quality, equity, and accountability, among others. Other FP2020 partners are also exploring ways of developing and—crucially—aligning indicators to monitor rights at the provider level. This growing body of research will help donors, countries, and program developers assess the validity of various RBFP approaches.

In June of 2016, the FP2020 Secretariat convened the “Realizing Sustainable Programming for Rights-based Family Planning” meeting in London, attended by representatives of donor organizations, implementing agencies, research groups, United Nations entities, and civil society. Participants shared current RBFP programing and monitoring efforts, heard the perspectives of key donors on how rights figure in their portfolios, explored the challenges and tensions inherent in this work, and identified approaches that will add a rights lens to new and existing programs.

Recognizing that the rights-based approach is a multi-sectoral concern, the FP2020 Secretariat, USAID, and the Interagency Gender Working Group (IGWG) co-convened a meeting on the nexus of gender and rights-based family planning, or reproductive empowerment.

The discussion was held in May 2016 in Washington, DC, and focused on key considerations in gender norms and women’s status and empowerment that can amplify the work on rights-based programming. Members of the HIV/AIDS community have also reached out to learn how they can engage, and there is increased interest in sharing these principles with the maternal and child health community.

Although the family planning sector is still in the early stages of capitalizing on the potential that a rights-based approach can bring, awareness and interest have reached a level that further progress is inevitable. The coming year will focus on further advancing the body of evidence and creating a community of practice where the robust exchange of ideas can occur virtually as well as in person. FP2020 will support this work by convening and amplifying discussions, developing and sharing tools and resources, and driving forward our shared agenda:

  • What does it mean to have a rights-based approach?
  • Will quality of care work be folded into the rights-based approach, or will it continue to be separate and complementary?
  • How can progress toward upholding rights be measured?
  • Will a rights approach bring in more women and improve the sustainability of programming?
  • How can governments put into place policies that support the rights-based frame?
  • What are the most viable ways of creating implementation plans that support RBFP?
  • How do service providers and program managers at every level get the training they need to ensure rights are in their programs?
  • How can country plans measure how well rights have been observed?

As interest and expertise in this emerging area of family planning grow and strengthen, these questions, and more, will be answered.

Jonathan Torgovnik

Getty Images Reportage

Responding to Zika

The spread of the Zika virus highlights the critical importance of a rights-based approach to sexual and reproductive health care. The public health response must be grounded in the rights of women and girls to determine for themselves if and when they get pregnant, and to make informed decisions about what is best for them and their individual circumstances. An effective response should also embrace a holistic approach to sexual and reproductive health, with an emphasis on access to a range of high-quality contraceptive methods, including condoms and emergency contraception.

FP2020’s Rapid Response Mechanism is funding three projects in response to the Zika outbreak. In Nicaragua, Ipas is focusing on reaching young people with information on contraception and Zika prevention. The project includes training of health care professionals on youth-friendly services, training of peer educators and extension workers on referral techniques and Zika messaging, and support for the Ministry of Health to develop and adopt a protocol on Zika treatment with a rights-based approach.

In Haiti, Profamil is working to increase access to family planning and information on Zika prevention among underserved populations. The project includes training of peer educators, a nationwide campaign on family planning and Zika, and mobile clinics to serve hard-to-reach areas. Also in Haiti, the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer aims to accelerate the use of contraceptives to mitigate the impact of the Zika virus and prevent birth defects in children during the peak of the epidemic. The project will reach at least 10,000 women and girls with information about the importance of family planning, the range of modern contraceptive options available, the potential dangers of Zika in pregnancy, and how Zika can be prevented.