COMMENTARY: Expanding Indonesian women's access to contraceptives

Today, Indonesia stands at the cusp of an enormous opportunity: the chance to complete its transformation into a global economic powerhouse. But to ensure its rapid ascent, we encourage Indonesia to continue expanding women’s access to voluntary family planning as a national priority.

Contraceptives are one of the greatest antipoverty measures in history. For evidence of this, Indonesians need look no further than their own recent past. Fifty years ago, fewer than one in 10 Indonesian women had used contraceptives. The average Indonesian woman had five or six children, and she was raising them in extreme poverty.

Everything changed in the 1960s, when Indonesia rolled out one of the most successful policies for expanding contraceptive access that the world has ever seen. In just one generation, access to contraceptives skyrocketed to over 50 percent. The average number of children per women went down to just two or three. And the prospects for each of these families began to rise.

The reason is simple. When a woman has the ability to plan her pregnancies, she is better able to complete her education, increase her earning potential, work outside the home and help lift her family out of poverty. What’s more, her children are likely to be healthier and more educated, and better positioned to live up to their potential at school and at work. As Indonesia saw firsthand, an investment in family planning is an investment in a country’s economic future.

But still today, there are many women across Indonesia who lack access to the family planning methods that best meet their needs. These women are ready and willing to create a brighter future for their families and drive growth for their communities. The question before Indonesia today is whether they will be given that chance.

Fortunately, there are some clear steps that Indonesia can take to continue its global leadership in family planning. Indonesia can reach even more women by focusing on three key initiatives.

First, providing women with a broader range of contraceptive options, particularly the longacting reversible contraceptives a growing number of women prefer. Different women have different needs over the course of their lives. For example, someone who is only briefly delaying pregnancy would probably not choose the same method as a woman who has decided that she does not want any more children. Ensuring women have access to a range of options is important because a woman is more likely to use contraceptives when she can select a method that fits her own life.

Second, improving care for women who have just given birth to ensure that they are waiting healthy intervals between pregnancies. When women space their births by at least three years, newborns are twice as likely to survive their first year and children are 35 percent more likely to live to see their fifth birthday.

Three in four married women want either to wait before getting pregnant again or have decided they are finished having children altogether. We must make sure they have access to a wider range of tools, including long-acting family planning methods.

Finally, supporting young people with the family planning information, counseling and services they need to make informed decisions about their future. Indonesia has a rising group of young men and women who are entering adulthood. By enabling this generation to plan for their future, Indonesia will reap the benefits of a “demographic bonus” and spark tremendous growth in the economy over the next decade.

But today, the future of many young women is held back by early or unintended pregnancy. Thirteen percent of Indonesia’s pregnant women are 18 years or younger. When a young woman gets pregnant before her body is fully mature, it increases health risks to both her and her baby — and can make a family’s climb out of poverty even steeper.

But there are many reasons to be optimistic. Indonesia has long been a leader in family planning and has recently taken several important steps, from launching a national health insurance program that covers contraceptives to hosting world leaders at the International Family Planning Conference last year. Local administrations are integrating family planning into their local health budgets and strategies. Inspired by this movement to empower women and girls, we have committed many dollars to the Indonesia Health Fund.

Another promising sign is on display this week at a national meeting on adolescent reproductive health in Yogyakarta, where young people are brimming with excitement about their plans for themselves, their futures and their country.

One young woman shared a powerful message about the importance of contraceptives that she had received from her parents: “This is a developing country. It’s your job to develop it.” Like so many young people across Indonesia, she does not intend to merely watch this country rise — she intends to do her part to lift it.

By recommitting to expanding access to contraceptives, we can match these young people’s determination with our own and unlock even more potential for Indonesia’s future.