Article – UNFPA
At some point of her life, a woman will confront questions that the majority of members of our communities assume is a given whether she wants to have children and if yes, at what intervals would she want them in, assuming she wants to have more than …The right to plan
Suva, December 10, 2013 – At some point of her life, a woman will confront questions that the majority of members of our communities assume is a given – whether she wants to have children and if yes, at what intervals would she want them in, assuming she wants to have more than one.
Just as women have the right to life or to liberty and security of person or to education and health, equality in marriage and equality and non-discrimination, it is a women’s right to be able to plan her family.
“The number and spacing of children has implications on their education and their well-being,” United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Pacific Sub-Regional Office Representative and Director Dr Laurent Zessler said.
“It has proven as well to be the most cost-effective public health and sustainable development intervention ever developed.
“As communities though, we need to recognise the right that every women has to plan her life and if there is a family included then so be it, but she must be able to make these decisions herself.”
Central to one’s right to plan her family are entitlements to quality family planning good and services, the right to family planning information and sexuality education and that individuals can make these decision without coercion, discrimination or violence. Correspondingly, states are obligated to respect, protect and fulfil entitlements of these individuals or right-holders.
In Fiji, the UNFPA Pacific office is working with the Ministry of Social Welfare, Women and Poverty Alleviation to utilize the ministry’s existing 15 Women’s Resource Centres as access points for correct information and services related to family planning, among other things.
Minister for Women, Social Welfare and Poverty Alleviation Dr. Jiko Luveni said the project meant that the ministry was progressing in its commitment to ensuring women were informed on sexual and reproductive health issues.
“As a ministry, we are committed to providing an enabling environment for the progress of women and adolescent girls; this collaboration will mean women around the country will have knowledge of sexual and reproductive health-related issues,” Dr Luveni said.
“The centres which will increase to 60 by the end of 2014 will also be able to provide contraceptives like condoms and when the need arises, those expressing a desire for a different type of contraceptive will be referred to the main medical centres.”
Dr Zessler said reaching those who were outside any formal structure of knowledge or information dissemination was very important.
“Our intention is to provide a space where women can gather and discuss issues amongst themselves. It is their right to have this information which is vital to their well-being and to the future of their children who may reach the highest education level they can because parents can afford it,” Dr Zessler said.
“We at the UNFPA Pacific office will continue working with regional governments for as long as they want us to partner with them in this area.”
The women’s resource centres will also involve the Ministry of Health.
When some 179 countries including Pacific island nations signed the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action in 1994, these visionaries formally recognised the right of individuals to have children by choice, not by chance.
The ICPD Programme of Action fundamentally changed the international community’s approach to this issue: family planning was moved to the broader context of sexual and reproductive health, both a recognition of individual’s right to plan their family and to “attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health”.
In a 2013 research paper on investing in family planning in the Pacific, the authors concluded that in Small Island states like Vanuatu and Solomon Islands, such investments would improve maternal and infant health and consequently substantially improve public sector savings. For example, preventing unintended pregnancies would save $112 million in health and education expenditure, for both countries.
If the desire to plan families were met by 2020, the research paper says that the average annual number of unintended pregnancies would decline by 68 per cent in Vanuatu and 50 per cent in the Solomon Islands, and high-risk births would fall by more than 20 per cent, preventing 2,573 maternal and infant deaths.
For the UNFPA, this right-based approach to sexual and reproductive health including family planning has led to the full realization of the right to plan one’s family through assistance to governments to make their commitments a reality. Rights-based approaches have also seen, among other things, increased participation of local communities, an improvement of transparency and accountability and the promotion of results.
On January 10 (2013), the President of Fiji, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau said when making a national address that the new Constitution “must focus on the development of the individual. It must recognise our rights as individuals. By giving civil, political and socio-economic rights, we will not only protect individuals but nurture them”. Chapter Two of the Constitution provides for the Bill of Rights which includes the right to health, “including reproductive health care”.
There are still barriers to women’s full realization of their right to plan their family. Violence perpetrated against women, in whatever form, is just one example. A recent study on the prevalence of violence against women has placed Fiji fourth out of 20 countries in the world that used the same World Health Organisation methodology.
Progress has been made but we cannot be complacent. How women have been or continue to be valued within their family units, community systems and or in their countries as a whole has never been uniform, but this socio-cultural aspect of our societies is a huge determinant of how women are treated.
An indication of how progressive we are for example is the degree of control a woman has over her own body; if this is reality then it is a huge step towards women enjoying their right to plan their families.
As we observe Human Rights Day today, it may be fitting perhaps to consider providing an enabling environment for women to enjoy her inherent right to plan her family.