PHE Mythbusting at the International Conference on Family Planning

December 2, 2013 • Family Planning, Ethiopia, News

PHE Mythbusting at the International Conference on Family Planning
By Roger-Mark De Souza

I’ve just returned from the International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) in Ethiopia where integrated population, health, and environment (PHE) programs had a strong showing. More than 16 sessions over three days at the conference incorporated PHE themes, including panels on communicating complexity around family planning, conservation and human rights; how PHE helps accelerate the fertility transition in rural Ethiopia; and meaningful ways of linking population and family planning to climate change and sustainable development in Africa. Blue Ventures, one of PHE’s strongest voices, was given one of the first ever Excellence in Leadership for Family Planning awards. At this global meeting of family planning experts, PHE was clearly and squarely at the center.

Despite this progress, I was also reminded of some of the myths that persist regarding the PHE approach. The reactions of colleagues from different fields to the work Blue Ventures and others are doing around the world, connecting conservation and poverty-reduction efforts with reproductive health, were telling. Three stood out to me in particular:

Myth #1: PHE Is Simplistic and Malthusian

Reality: The PHE approach is rights-based, community-driven, and embraces complexity.

One reaction to a session we organized was quite blunt: PHE is “simplistic and Malthusian,” said one audience member. It’s easy for practitioners who have been working on these integrated programs to forget that others might interpret PHE programs in this way, but it’s important not to overlook it.

In fact, the PHE field has worked very hard to establish three key elements that move it above and beyond this type of criticism: a focus on voluntary family planning and preserving individuals’ right to choose the number and spacing of their children; responding to community needs and priorities as identified by the community itself; and taking into account the complexity of on-the-ground realities.

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