Rich countries have pledged $2.6bn over the next eight years at a family planning summit in London, in what was described as a breakthrough for the world’s poorest women and girls. The money, coupled with commitments from developing countries, is expected to provide access to family planning for 120 million women in the global south.
“This will be a breakthrough that will transform lives,” said the UK international development secretary, Andrew Mitchell. “The commitments made at the summit today will support the rights of women to determine freely, and for themselves, whether, when and how many children they have,” said Mitchell at a conference hosted by the Gates Foundation and the Department for International Development (DfID), designed to put what has been a politically loaded issue back on the global development agenda.
More than 20 developing countries made commitments to boost spending on family planning and to strengthen women’s rights to ease their access to contraception.
The summit’s organisers say commitments made at the summit will result in 200,000 fewer women dying in pregnancy and childbirth, more than 110m fewer unintended pregnancies, over 50m fewer abortions and nearly 3 million fewer babies dying in their first year of life.
The conference sought to reverse two decades of neglect on family planning, especially during the Bush years. The event brought together several African leaders – including Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete – NGOs and the private sector, and featured an unannounced drop-in by David Cameron.
The prime minister received a warm welcome for his strong advocacy of women’s rights and of the UK’s aid programme. “Women should be able to decide freely and for themselves whether, when and how many children they have,” he said. “It is absolutely fundamental to any hope to tackling poverty in our world.”
Besides pledges from donor countries, the conference heard commitments to expand family planning programmes from a parade of health ministers from developing countries. Malawi said it would raise the minimum marriage age to 18, India said it planned to have universal access to family planning by 2020, and Senegal said it would invest in a mass-communication campaign involving religious and political leaders.
“The Catholic church is with us as family planning is consistent within the context of marriage,” said Senegal’s health minister, Dr Awa Marie Coll-Seck. “As for Muslim religious leaders, we have some on the family planning co-ordinating committee. If the religious leaders are with us, we can really make headway.”