London Family Planning Summit report back

Following my last post on this, spent the day at the London Family Planning Summit yesterday as a blogger for The F Word. For those of you on twitter who are keen on the proceedings, a few of us were live tweeting using #FPsummit.

The event itself was highly orchestrated, which I realized after I wasn’t expecting but which I think is fairly inevitable for this kind of event. There were set panels, interspersed by individual country announcements, all quite short and to the point. President Musevini of Uganda even joked, ‘I was given 4 minutes, but I did not come 4000 miles for 4 minutes.’

The switch-ups between panels and announcements did make the proceedings more dynamic though, as did the video messages from various high profile people who couldn’t make it (including Ban Ki Moon, Hilary Clinton, Joyce Banda and Aung San Suu Kyi). There were also short videos profiling women in parts of Asia and Africa, and their struggles to access family planning services. It was a bit of a shame that there wasn’t much conversation between panel members however, nor any questions taken from the audience which included civil society delegates from around the world.

Full agenda here (pdf) and webcast here, for those interested in seeing who all was on stage and what they said.

In one way, the panels were very disappointing – not for their content, but because of their composition. The first panel had 2 women and 3 men, the second 3 and 2, the third 1 and 4, the fourth a whopping zero women and 5 men, and the fifth 3 and 5. That made for 9 women and 19 men, just under a third*.

Claire Melamed reckons we might need to start some new Twitter hashtags for this kind of thing (though #diversityaudit is still going of course). Her suggestions are: #nowomenhere or #panelofshame. Feel free to share others in the comments below.

The goal of the Summit was billed at increasing access to contraception for 120 million more women by 2020. However the headline target that was set to track progress on the day was a monetary one – US$4 billion. Judged on this count, the Summit was a success, in that it raised US$4.3 billion in pledges directly focused on family planning. Of special note perhaps are the pledges made by the UK Government and the Gates Foundation, co-hosts of the Summit. In a speech that received a standing ovation, the Prime Minister announced that Britain would invest over £500 million up to 2020, which would, he said, ‘help 24 million women and girls… saving a woman’s life every two hours.’ Melinda Gates, in turn, confirmed that her Foundation would be increasing its commitment by US$560 million up to 2020, bringing its total spend to over US$1 billion on family planning.

Beyond the numbers, there were also a number of important commitments made on legal and policy changes that are worth highlighting. Malawi, for example, committed to change the legal age of marriage to 18 by the end of the year – one of the asks in the ActionAid report (pdf) I blogged about that argues violence against women and girls prevents choice even when contraception is available. And Nigeria committed to focus on the education of girl children as part of its efforts, recognizing the large divide in contraception use between girls with little or no education and those that have completed secondary school in the country.

The Scandinavian countries, such as Denmark and Sweden were very impressive, consistently highlighting the need to consider yesterday’s efforts within the context of broader efforts to expand women’s sexual and reproductive rights, including access to safe and legal abortion.

What this will actually mean in practice will of course be what we need to watch. And the effort has certainly not been without its critics. Nevertheless, the repeated emphasis by delegates on choice, non-coercion and women’s rights are a promising start.

Image of the conference bag we received, with text reading ‘London Summit on Family Planning’

*Updated at 11pm because got my maths wrong – 9/28 panel members is under a third, not under half as originally posted.