How Business Can Support the Global Movement for Family Planning

July 11, 2017
  • Christine Svarer portrait

    Christine Svarer

    Managing Director, RISE, BSR

  • Andrea Lilja

    Former Manager, BSR

Maternal deaths are the second-biggest killer of women of reproductive age globally: Every two minutes a woman dies from complications in pregnancy and childbirth, with 99 percent of these women living in developing countries. Research by the Guttmacher Institute shows that around 40 percent of the 190 million pregnancies in the developing world in 2012 were unintended, and that about half of them ended in abortion. Unsafe abortions are recognized as one of the main drivers behind pregnancy-related complications and the leading cause of death among women aged between 15 and 19 globally.

The most effective way to avoid unintended pregnancy is through correct and consistent use of contraceptives. Yet an estimated 225 million women in developing countries who would like to delay or prevent pregnancy do not have access to any method of contraception.

Today, the international community is coming together for the Family Planning Summit 2017. It has been exactly five years since the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning adopted the ambitious goal of enabling 120 million more women and girls to use contraceptives by 2020. So far the global partnership for Family Planning (FP2020) is making progress, and an estimated 34 million more women are now using modern contraceptives. This indicates a clear acceleration compared to historical trends, but also suggests that we are not making progress fast enough to reach the FP2020 goal.

Now we need to pick up the pace. Achieving the FP2020 goal is a critical milestone for ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights by 2030, as laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals. The international family planning community is calling on the private sector to join the global movement to enable women and girls to use contraceptives.

What does women’s access to family planning have to do with your business?

Access to safe, voluntary family planning is a human right. Accessing family planning services is essential for women and girls to be able to stay in school, join the workforce, and—crucially—remain active in the formal economy. Women play a key role in the global workforce, and their participation in the formal economy is critical for economic growth and for companies’ ability to recruit and retain workers. A recently published report by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation recognizes health issues, including not having access to family planning, as critical barriers to women’s economic participation.

Promoting women’s access to family planning does therefore make good business sense, and business can play an important role in supporting more women and girls with access to family planning. Global supply chains—especially those with a high concentration of women workers in factories—present a major opportunity to connect women to comprehensive family planning services. BSR’s HERproject has implemented HERhealth programs over the past 10 years, improving health outcomes for more than 600,000 low-income women workers. Our impact data show increased awareness of the benefits of using family planning as well as an actual increase in the use of contraceptives among women workers. However, our experience tells us that we need to increase investments in workplace health systems to ensure full access to family planning for women workers.

Therefore, we are presenting a new approach for investing in workplace health systems to deliver for women, their families, and communities. Together with The Evidence Project/Raise Health Initiative, we have developed a set of resources to build the capacity of workplace managers and clinic staff to manage workplace health services and to implement health awareness-raising activities.

Investing in workplace health systems means that factories and farms can:

  • Improve women workers’ access to critical health services, both in the workplace and outside the workplace through stronger referral systems.
  • Increase the capacity of top managers and clinic staff to manage workplace health, and to run the health clinic as a strategic business resource.
  • Sustain impact after the formal completion of HERhealth by creating an enabling environment for workplace health and local ownership.

Partnering with factories and farms to help them invest in workplace health systems is an essential component of HERproject’s efforts to ensure women workers have access to comprehensive family planning, and to support their right to decide whether, when, and how many children they want to have. Investing in workplace health systems will not only promote women’s health outcomes and right to health, but also will enable women and girls to participate in the formal economy more fully.

Women’s health—including sexual and reproductive health and rights—remains central to HERproject after 10 years. We are calling on companies to accelerate efforts to ensure access to family planning for women around the world. Business has a unique opportunity to invest in women working in global supply chains, and by actively partnering with local suppliers to improve workplace health systems, you can join a powerful movement to ensure women have control over their lives—for everyone’s benefit.

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