Breaking the invisible barriers to birth control

July 20, 2012 • Family Planning, HIV/AIDS, Reproductive Health, Serial Dramas, Africa, Asia/Pacific, Daily Email Recap

The following article was written in the days leading up to the London Summit on Family Planning, but though it is somewhat dated, it remains important in that it emphasizes that as important as the “medical model” of family planning provision is — it is crucial — that another crucial factor remains: removing cultural, informational and other socially oppressive barriers to the access and use of family planning services and technologies.

The author is Jennifer McCleary-Sills, social and behavioral scientist at at the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW). She is co-author of the February 2012 ICRW report, Women’s Demand for Reproductive Control: Understanding and Addressing Gender Barriers.

You can access the PDF of that report (1.7 MBs) here:

The Word on Women – Breaking the invisible barriers to birth control

By Jennifer McCleary-Sills


The 28-year-old Zambian woman I met at the medical clinic with two of her three children in tow had a clear mission: “I came today to get a 5-year method,” she told me. “I don’t want another child yet.”

The fact that she could articulate her desire, knew what contraceptive method she wanted – a Jadelle implant – and made it to the clinic makes her somewhat of an anomaly worldwide. Even rarer, her husband was on board with the decision. “My husband encouraged me [to get the implant] and supports me,” she said. “Child spacing is important to me because my husband doesn’t work, so resources at home are a bit difficult.”

It’s this kind of scenario, this type of self-awareness that public health experts, global development practitioners and government officials attending this week’s Family Planning Summit in London must ultimately strive to create for women around the globe.

The Summit could become a watershed moment in the field of reproductive health and rights, potentially re-energizing long dormant discussions, funding and political support for women’s right to decide whether they want children, when to have them and how many.  Rightly, the Summit aims to tilt the conversation toward what women need, instead of how to control population growth.

Spearheaded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Government, the Summit’s goals include expanding the availability of family planning services, information and supplies to enable 120 million more women in the world’s poorest countries to use contraceptives by 2020.

While we wholeheartedly applaud and celebrate this effort, we also urge those gathering in London to remember that reaching 120 million more women will require stimulating greater ‘demand’ for contraception as well as increasing its ‘supply’.  In other words, we can provide more clinics and information, more condoms and pills, and we should. But there are numerous intangible forces at work in women’s lives that prevent them from taking advantage of these services.

To read the full article, please click here:

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