Millions of girls and women globally aren’t able to access contraception or make their own decisions about when or if to start a family, or how many children they want to have.
It’s a massive limitation on achieving both universal health coverage and true gender equality, denying girls and women — particularly in the developing world — the right to decide their own future.
Now, the UK has made a commitment at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, to reach over 20 million women and girls with access to family planning every year for the next five years.
Through helping women and girls access life-saving medicines in hospitals, which can help prevent death in childbirth, the new commitment will save tens of thousands of lives.
Alok Sharma, the UK’s international development secretary, said at an UNGA event that the world can’t achieve universal health coverage without prioritising universal sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) access for women and girls.
“The UK has been at the forefront of global efforts to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights for women and girls living in the world’s poorest countries,” said Sharma, highlighting that UK aid reached at least 23.5 million women and girls between April 2018 and March 2019 alone.
“But there are still millions more who are being denied their rights to decide what is right for them,” he said. “This UK aid will help give millions of women and girls control over their bodies, so they can choose if, when, and how many children they want.”
He said: “That is a basic right that every woman and girl deserves.”
Every day, at least 20,000 adolescent girls become pregnant. Meanwhile, there are at least 38 million adolescent girls in developing countries who are sexually active but don't want to get pregnant. Yet, only 15 million of these girls are using modern contraception.
Over the next five years, the new UK aid funding of £600 million will:
- Give over 20 million women and girls access to family planning per year.
- Prevent 5 million unintended pregnancies per year
- Prevent at least 1.5 million potentially-fatal unsafe abortions per year
- Save an estimated 9,000 lives per year from complications in pregnancy or childbirth.
It will also support those women and girls whose lives have been affected by humanitarian crises, such as in Syria, Yemen, and Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.
In April this year, Global Citizen launched a campaign working alongside the UN’s Population Fund (UNFPA) to help ensure that women and girls everywhere have the right to ensure their own futures through access to family planning.
Global Citizens have already taken more than 91,000 actions, calling on world leaders to contribute to unlocking the potential of women and strengthening country development through family planning access.
Now, with the new programme announced on Tuesday working alongside other ongoing UK aid-funded family planning programmes, UK aid is collectively going beyond that ambition.
The UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) has also highlighted that family planning is one of the best investments there is for development.
The Copenhagen Consensus — a think tank that works to help prioritise where funding should be spent using cost-benefit analysis — has reported that family planning is among the most cost-effective interventions that the world can make. In fact, it says, every $1 invested in meeting the unmet need for contraceptives in the long-term can reportedly yield up to $120 in accrued annual benefits.