Investing for a Lifetime of Returns
By Jay Gribble
Opening session at ICFP2018—the fifth such global conference on family planning. It’s amazing how things have evolved since the first meeting in Uganda—how the global movement has galvanized and continues to push for more awareness, attention, and resources. And pushing is needed—at a time when donor funding for family planning (FP) is reducing, the call for sustainability and country ownership is louder and with expectations that countries will step up more.
FP is an investment that yields returns on so many fronts. On one hand, it has health benefits—family planning saves lives—it transforms lives. It contributes to economic growth by allowing women and couples to decide on the number and timing of children they want—allowing them to make the most of opportunities to participate in the labor force. It contributes to women’s empowerment, for nothing can be more empowering to a woman than to take charge of her body and her biology. And there are so many other ways that the investment in FP accrues returns to those who use it.
At the same time, those returns come to the individual, the community, the nation—and ultimately, the world. The individual returns are those that each woman and couple experience when they avoid a high-risk pregnancy, when their household resources go further because of fewer children to care for, when both parents can work outside the home for longer periods of time. Research from Matlab, Bangladesh make the case that households where women use family planning are wealthier and healthier. And for the first time, I’ve seen ICFP take on the issue of pleasure—that individuals can better enjoy sex without having to think about unplanned pregnancies. The returns accrue to the woman and man who use contraception—as well as to their children, who grow up in a better resourced environment. And as households do better, so do communities.
And nations reap the benefit of family planning. Recent work conducted by my colleagues at the Health Policy Plus project demonstrate that increased use of family planning contributes to poverty reduction, better nutrition outcomes, improved access to water and sanitation, food security, child stunting, education, income, and child labor—11 of the 17 SDG areas. Benefits at the household and community level aggregate to the national level, and play a critical role in helping countries accelerate economic growth. When nations experience returns and move into middle-income status, they are able to pay those benefits forward to future generations.
An additional change with the ICFP meetings that I’ve noted over time is the growing visibility of young people. We talk about demographic dividend and investing in youth, but when I see the hundreds of young people around me in this opening session, I can’t help but think that efforts that keep information about reproductive health and family planning away from youth are detrimental to young people themselves, their families and communities, and ultimately to their nations. Without addressing the reproductive health needs of young people, teen pregnancy will continue as a problem, young people will continue to be infected with HIV, and youth will not be able to achieve their potential because doors will close for them.
As I sit in the conference center waiting for the opening session to start, the message on the shirt of the young man sitting in front of me sums it up well: “invest in adolescents and youth, they are our future.”. This message strikes me as relevant to all countries and all sectors. And what really strikes me about the message and the messenger is that it’s not just a young person—but a young man proudly displaying this message that his future is linked to my future and your future. Without recognizing the returns on investing in family planning, people—young and old, in communities and across nations—will fall short of achieving their potential.
So it’s time for the opening session to start. I’m confident that that the next few days prove productive and yield returns to those attending for starters—and beyond to all those we reach.
Jay Gribble, Deputy Director, FP/RH for Health Policy Plus and Senior Fellow at Palladium, has expertise in policy, research, and communication and more than 25 years of experience in international family planning.