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November 30, 2011

At family planning plenary, youth’s messages captivate audience

 Plenary session at ICFP 


With more than 2,200 family planning policy makers, researchers and advocates watching the opening plenary of the International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) – including some in seaside tents outfitted with big-screen TVs – two youth leaders captivated the audience.

The featured speakers included international dignitaries, headlined by the president of Senegal, but the younger leaders made a dramatic plea with an adamant demand: involve youth in family planning decision making.

As many family planning advocates say, family planning can improve the lives of future generations. Based on this argument, the youth leaders said they should be fully included in the discussions in making policy, and not have policy makers make decisions for them.

Both speakers, Saudou Node and Mohammed Barry, expressed disappointment that more has not been done to ensure universal access to family planning. Node told the plenary that projects and policies created to increase family planning access often never make it to the field.

“We all need to do more to be sure that these projects are implemented,” Node said.

For Node, there was a clear obligation to act. “It is not a question for girls and women only, but humanity as a whole,” Node said. “It is a fundamental human right and a fundamental development issue.”

The second speaker, Barry, also expressed frustration that family planning is still not a priority for many governments. This can and should change, Barry said. “All we need is leadership and accountability and continued support from donor partners,” he said.

Another speaker, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), also said he hoped that the conference would both inspire leaders to satisfy current unmet need as well as inspire them to create demand.

The first lady of Burkina Faso agreed, saying that low demand is created by traditions that keep women and men from using family planning. Her Excellency Chantal Compare said, “Culture, traditional or modern, should serve the people. Not the reverse.”

With Senegal as host to the conference -- a country from West Africa, which is the region with the highest fertility rate in the world -- a message is being sent, Dr. Osotimehin said. His message: “Africa is ready to move.”

Senegal’s President Adoulaye Wade provided some evidence to support Osotimehin’s claim. At the end of the plenary, President Wade surprised the audience with an announcement that Senegal will increase spending on contraceptives from 100 million CFA (roughly US $200,000) to 500 million CFA (roughly US $1 million).

During the program, Dr. Osotimehin compared family planning to oxygen, vital for women live. If family planning is indeed oxygen, President Wade’s announcement will help many more women breathe in Senegal.

** This is one of a series of posts from the International Family Planning Conference in Dakar, Senegal.


In Senegal