WYA Statement: Fifth International Conference on Family Planning in Rwanda

The Fifth International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) took place in Kigali, Rwanda, from 12-15 November. Its sponsors included the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health and the Ministry of Health of Rwanda, and was attended by many non-governmental organizations.

Family planning is an important component of reproductive health that empowers women and men to determine the number and spacing of their children. However, conferences such as these, and much development aid earmarked for reproductive health, often focus exclusively on providing contraceptive methods and commodities which may not be culturally appropriate or desired by all women and couples. The conference in Kigali has, unfortunately, continued this trend.

A person-centred approach would focus instead on informed choice, ensuring that women and couples make decisions about family planning based on options, information and understanding. It also ensures that women and couples have options that take into account their personal values. Quality reproductive healthcare must also ensure that women’s health needs are met, beyond symptom management, to restore health.

FEMM, WYA’s sister organization, is working to meet these needs through health education and medical training. FEMM knows that hormones are essential to reproductive and overall women’s health. Ovulation is the sign of health in women because it is the proof of sufficient hormone levels in the 9 essential hormones that influence women’s health. FEMM teaches women about her own body and how to track her symptoms and observations to know whether she is healthy. FEMM’s Medical Management program trains doctors to diagnose and treat reproductive health problems, with a holistic view of a woman’s body that incorporates recent research on the complex hormonal interactions between different body systems. FEMM has developed innovative protocols that allow doctors to identify underlying problems with precision and treat them effectively at the root cause.

This conference also hosted events on comprehensive sexuality education (CSE). CSE often includes material which many consider inappropriate, including controversial material at young ages. Under international law, states are under no obligation to provide a particular form of sexuality education, but some organizations exclusively promote CSE, over cultural and ethical objections.

WYA has created the Human Dignity Curriculum (HDC). The HDC teaches children about human dignity: that every human being has it, and should therefore be respected. The program is culturally sensitive and encourages parental involvement.Students who understand human dignity are not only prepared to make responsible personal decisions, but to contribute to their communities and to treat others with respect in their families, peer groups, and communities, including in their personal relationships. The lessons they learn about solidarity, excellence, and respect encourage them to examine their actions and responsibilities to themselves and others. The HDC has an optional teenFEMM/teenMEN extension to teach children about reproductive health in a scientifically accurate, age-appropriate way.

Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development, policies and laws, as such they are the most important and valuable resource of any nation. All development efforts must safeguard the lives and dignity of all human persons, without exception. They must treat human beings as our greatest resource—problem-solvers, not problems to be solved.

States must assess the true wishes and needs of their people in order to ensure that family planning programs and reproductive health education are in line with their citizens’ human dignity. We call upon policy makers and all stakeholders to ensure that human dignity is protected and respected in all reproductive health and education programs.