This guest blog was written by Lauren Van Enk of the Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University.
With so much recent debate over the role of foreign aid in the U.S. budget, is now the time to discuss potentially sensitive issues like family planning?
At a time like this, some in the international development community would rather focus on the non-controversial issues (e.g. food assistance or malaria) that will surely gain broad-based support and preserve the little funding apportioned for global development. Others see this as a time of crisis for women’s health and want to ramp up the rhetoric on reproductive health by demanding attention be paid to the rights of women.
What about holding a conversation about family planning that conveys its importance in improving global health but allows for participation from individuals of varying perspectives? To the latter point, we can’t talk about reproductive health without addressing family planning and its essential role in empowering women. And, unbeknownst to many, we can’t talk about family planning without talking about the role of faith and faith-inspired organizations. Traditionally, this has been a very sensitive conversation to broker. But this week’s consultation at Georgetown University proved skeptics wrong.
Georgetown University’s Institute for Reproductive Health convened a consultation April 11-12 on the role of family planning in improving maternal and child health outcomes, particularly as it relates to Muslim and Christian perspectives on family well-being. During the meeting, participants checked their positional attitudes at the door and brought a desire to find common ground among the various perspectives. Numerous examples were shared about successful partnerships between secular and faith-based organizations as well as interfaith collaboration resulting in improved access to family planning information and services.
For people of Muslim and Christian faith, the family is the cornerstone of a stable and peaceful society. Therefore, family health is something that is essential to the faith community. If family planning is seen as a voluntary decision-making process that begins between couples about the appropriate timing, spacing and number of children in order to maximize the health and welfare of the family, we can begin to come together around this previously controversial issue. Through appropriate timing and spacing of pregnancies, infant and maternal morbidity and mortality is reduced. Furthermore, family planning allows parents to devote ample time, attention and resources to each child as they grow.
Today, numerous faith-based organizations and religious leaders already recognize family planning’s role in a holistic approach to family well-being, and they are promoting access to family planning information and services in creative and culturally appropriate ways. To learn more about faith-based approaches to family planning, view the presentations given at a Global Health Council event Wednesday by representatives from World Vision, Adventist Development and Relief Agency, Islamic Relief, and the Extending Service Delivery Project. The Institute for Reproductive Health will also be releasing a report synthesizing key findings of a qualitative study which explored the role of faith in development organization perceptions and activities related to family planning.