Most, if not all, reproductive health partners say: ”No commodity, no program,” as they ponder how best to reach women and girls with life-saving commodities including contraceptives. The focus has for many years remained on target number of those reached or to be reached with various services including contraceptives.
Yet ensuring access to family planning (FP) services is beyond setting target numbers only. But also, and increasingly important, is to ensure clients rights are upheld, which includes many more aspects beyond meeting clients’ needs for information, counseling and their method choice through informed decision-making. It also means empowering them to participate, provide feedback on services rendered and be involved in accountability issues.
Studies in a number of developing countries shows that ensuring method mix, choice and having adequate skilled service providers in place, have been a constant struggle and challenge. Coercion to using contraceptives methods or to pregnancy by service providers or intimate partners, respectively, continue to characterize a number of family planning programs worldwide.
A recent post-London FP Summit consultative meeting that brought CSOs from the North and the South, donors and researchers, explored the rights-based approach (RBA) and acknowledged the need for doing ‘business unusual’. This means apart from focusing on quality, voluntary, informed choice and decision making as well as addressing privacy and confidentiality, the FP movement (governments, CSOs, donors, private sector, etc) should be more intentional in ensuring that services are non-discriminatory and equitable.
They also ought to put in place clients’ empowerment, their autonomy, and participation, while engaging different structures, processes, and actors including youth, to promote and ensure accountability at all levels. It means applying a human rights lens in the family planning / reproductive health program.
Admittedly, the RBA move is complex because it interrogates socio-cultural practices, and political contexts and is subject to different interpretation, but based on evidence the good news is that once integrated in FP program, RBA contributes to increased reproductive outcomes, and reduced coercion and intimate partner violence.
There is already evidence that shows that increasingly countries and donors are thinking about how to incorporate human rights into the design and execution of family planning programs, because globally, respecting, protecting, and fulfilling rights of individuals is acknowledged as key to advancing family planning and the broader sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) agenda.
Admittedly, “rights” is an unfinished agenda in FP and SRHR arena, however, given the existing Results-based family planning index, that adheres to human rights and empowerment principles for FP, and other protocols, there is great hope for progress.
As countries begin to implement their respective FP2020 commitments made in 2017, RBA will certainly feature in national consultations, as well as Costed Implementation Plans (CIPs). Contributing to global 120 million more users with family planning information, services and supplies by 2020, also means paying attention to women’s, girls’ and men’s human rights as they relate to family planning.