Family planning is a human right

This year we are celebrating 50 years since family planning was declared a basic human right. This landmark declaration was made at the 1968 International Conference on Human Rights. Family planning as a human right is also the theme of World Population Day observed globally on July 11th. This day is, therefore, an excellent opportunity to be reminded of the right of women to decide to have or not to have children, when to have them, and how many children to have.

Despite tremendous progress since 1968 globally, millions of women and men, many of whom are young adults, are unable to exercise the right to plan their families. Pakistan is no exception.

One out of every five women want to use contraceptives but do not have access to safe contraception methods, while Pakistan contributes to 9 per cent of the world’s unsafe abortions every year. It is vital to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, intended, and planned. Identifying the needs for the redressal of the issue, the Government of Pakistan has already committed publicly to improving services and availability of contraceptives.

The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) are working in Pakistan to ensure that every woman has access to family planning information and services so that she can plan her life, pursue her education and contribute more to her family and her nation.

DFID, through local partners, has established more than 3,000 family planning clinics and reached over 700,000 new family planning users since 2012, averting 2.2 million unintended pregnancies. UNFPA’s technical assistance and support to health and population departments has helped to build the capacity of nearly 150,000 outreach staff at community level. Midwives have been involved in provision of family planning information and services for the first time and midwifery curriculum has been revised and extended from 18 months to 24 months, to make sure midwives are ready and able to give good advice.

While we, DFID and UNFPA, are proud of our successes, we are aware that much more needs to be done. The success we have achieved in spreading awareness is rooted in working together, developing partnerships and building on the lessons learnt. This is the time to make smarter investments to take full advantage of the partnerships that we have nurtured.

Investment in meeting the need for family planning will only show results when the principles of non-discrimination, availability, accessibility, acceptability, good quality, informed decision-making, privacy and confidentiality, participation and accountability are adhered to. These nine standards have been set out by the United Nations as pre-requisites for effective family planning policies. We look forward to further partnering with the federal and provincial governments to uphold these standards to improve the availability and accessibility of family planning information and services in Pakistan.

The theme of this year’s World Population Day emphasises family planning as a human right. The rights-based perspective of family planning conveys individuals as full human beings who should have choices, and not be regarded as passive beneficiaries and mere numbers. Information and services must be provided to those who need and demand them, so that Pakistan can achieve its national and international commitments on family planning. We stand committed to support. We invite all policy-makers to pledge to do all we can, together, to ensure that we build a stable and prosperous Pakistan, where all couples are given the choice to plan their families.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2018.

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