She forgot how to push after 22 children.
The other woman had given birth 16 times and 4 of her children had died.
I am sitting in the audience at Women Deliver 2013, and I wept as these stories were shared. The women are two Filipinas, featured in a short film about the reproductive health bill winding its way to their Supreme Court in mid-June.
On this second day of the 3rd Women Deliver global conference, the theme is family planning. The plenary was kicked off by Melinda Gates and Babatunde Osotimehin, each global leader making the case we are accustomed to them making, but with greater conviction, intensity and story-telling than I have seen since last July.
As an American, one who knows all too well how needlessly the issue of family planning can be politicized, my mind went immediately to those in this audience who are critics of family planning.
Some who, over the years, have refused to work with a group like PAI, because our dedication to family planning reveals an “anti-feminist bias”.
She forgot how to push after 22 kids.
Those who have claimed family planning advocates see the intervention as an end in and of itself, rather than as a multiplier investment for women, families, communities, and nations.
She still has a dozen mouths to feed. She witnessed and lives with the death of four children.
I am so proud to lead PAI at this moment in time, when the global momentum behind family planning is exciting and humbling all at the same time. Those who know me–and those who read my writings, or have seen me talk at a conference–know that I am deeply passionate about this issue.
I truly believe it is the cornerstone of development.
I know our agenda is demand-driven. More than 200 million women in the developing world want access to contraception that they cannot get.
I hear stories of women and girls who want to fully realize their dreams, hopes and aspirations, and are held back by irrational barriers.
That’s not to say the roadmap is complete and that we don’t still have challenges ahead of us. There are practitioners among us who haven’t yet gotten their head around the centrality of issues like choice, equity, access, affordability and more.
There is no program without product, that is a truism. But it is sadly not as simple as that. For a woman who has no options, it is not enough to bring her one–such as a long-acting reversible method like implants or IUDs–and assume our work is done. We have perhaps improved her lot, but we are only scratching the surface.
Another truism is family planning as a moniker that is not one-size-fits-all. Young women, and especially unmarried young women, want access to contraception. They are not planning families; they are sexually active and desperately trying to avoid unintended pregnancies. We are talking about these women and girls with increasingly standard rhetoric, but we are not bringing our best and most innovative thinking to their conundrum.
And lastly, we know a lot. There is also a lot we do not know. Regardless, we fail to give our research the advocacy legs it needs to influence and change the policy and funding decisions that, when taken in a vacuum, can stall us at best and take us even backwards at worst.
She who forgets how to push, who has buried four children, deserves better. Luckily we are fully capable of delivering for her, and the moment is now.