All things considered, yesterday was a good day.
The only way to really gauge whether the London family planning summit was a success is to work out how far it progressed its three main aims.
The first of these – revitalising global commitments to family planning as a development priority – it certainly did. All the countries and donors involved (pdf) made strong statements about the importance they place on family planning. Some made pledges to double, and even triple, their investments. No matter how you look at it, $4.3 billion to spend on this crucial issue and an awful lot of positive attention is a good thing and a clear success.
Similarly, on the second aim - improve the access and distribution of contraceptive supplies – it’s clear that, spent properly, the much needed injection of new money will certainly make a big difference. The devil will be in the detail of how that money will be spent, but that’s only something we’ll be able to judge further down the line and it was encouraging to hear clear statements about accountability and transparency that give cause for optimism.
It’s the final aim where perhaps there is more to be done – in removing and reducing barriers to family planning. This is where ActionAid has been focusing its efforts; arguing that, even where contraceptives are locally available, women’s relative lack of decision making power may still prevent them from using them. Where women face violence or are coerced into sex, where they are unable to seek medical advice without permission from male relatives, or where husbands are expected to make decisions about family size, universal contraceptive coverage will remain a distant dream. (Download the report from our website)
There were exciting announcements on this final aim – not least from the Government of Malawi, who have pledged to raise their minimum age of marriage to 18, which is a crucial step for a country where 50% of girls are currently married before that age and where young wives have little decision making power. David Cameron also used his speech to announce that DFID would be scaling up and re-prioritising resources for women and girls in all of its 28 country programmes, talk about the government’s new initiative on sexual violence in conflict and pledge to personally ensure that the fight for the empowerment of women is at the heart of the international process he is co-chairing to renew the Millennium Development Goals. This is a huge step in the right direction, and very welcome.
Of course there was more that we would have liked to hear. Colleagues have spoken about the lack of mention of services for displaced people and refugees, lack of detail on how social barriers would be tackled, and concerns about how the money will be tracked and monitored. These are all valid concerns and it’s the role of NGOs and civil society to hold governments to account and work in partnership to make sure outstanding issues are addressed. It’s our job to always push for an even better outcome. That said, as one of the leaders pointed out, four minutes of speaking time doesn’t give you much chance to get into detail and hopefully this will come out in the near future.
We’ll certainly be looking on and will be encouraging the government to build on the leadership they’ve shown. We’re all looking for the same outcome and, after yesterday, it feels like it has definitely come closer.