Laura Turner Seydel, mother, entrepreneur and activist, recently returned from the International Family Planning Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. More than 3,200 attendees from 120 countries gathered to call for renewed commitment to help women around the world gain access to voluntary family planning. We had the honor to interview her on this experience.
“It was an awesome experience to be right there where all the African countries convene. There are 220 million women around the world facing an unmet need for family planning. Having all these delegates coming together under one roof to assess where we are and to assess where partnerships can be formed to identify and close these gaps was powerful.”
As world leaders added their voices in support of the needs of women, Seydel was impressed to learn more about Ethiopia’s leadership on this issue. Ethiopia has added women’s rights commitments to their constitution and in recent years doubled their rate of access to contraception. At the same time, this vulnerable country has been able to reduce child deaths over the last 10 years by 67 percent.
Seydel co-hosted a round-table discussion and shared her motivations for getting involved on this cause. “During a visit to Nigeria and Ghana about four years ago, I learned at that point there were 32 million women who didn’t have access to reproductive health care and who wanted it desperately – just in Nigeria. Since then we’ve partnered with other foundations working on this issue and joined the Universal Access Project.”
In 2012, the London Summit on Family Planning gathered commitments from governments, business and nonprofits to raise $4.3 billion – this amount will fund 120 million of those 220 million women who want access to family planning options. Seydel says, “since we came together over past couple of years we’ve been able to increase funding in the US by 30 percent. As Melinda Gates says, “I do this work because it’s about saving lives.” If we meet the need, the world would avoid 54 million unintended pregnancies, 26 million abortions (more than half would be unsafe), 7 million miscarriages, 1 million infant deaths and, 79,000 mothers dying due to complications from pregnancy and childbirth.”
We asked Seydel how communities are getting the family planning choices they need and how men, so important to these conversations, are getting involved. “More healthcare workers are getting out into rural areas. Education is what is needed for women to be empowered. Once they have knowledge and information, they can have conversations with their husbands and more thoughtfully weigh the cultural elements as well the health implications.”
She was energized by the number of male leaders presenting at the conference and standing up for the rights of women. “When you empower women you have what is called the ‘multiplier effect’ for societies. Women become economic drivers and keep their families healthy. They are also the sustainability leaders in their communities. Women who know how to manage resources thoughtfully will do this if given the opportunity, and being able to plan the spacing and number of children is pivotal to this.
“As women, we have to look at all these issues in a more holistic way and unite our voices. We have to do the right thing. We have to stand up for the planet. I am the mother of two daughters. I want them to be educated, have options, I want them to choose when they are having children and how many. Every woman should have that chance. This work pulls at our heart-strings. Once people hear the enormity of the unmet need, you bring people on board and it’s spreading like wildfire.”
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