Family planning, women’s health, and the empowerment agenda

Every March 8, is International Women’s Day, marking a time in which to reflect upon and celebrate women’s progress on the emancipation and empowerment agenda.

This year’s theme “Women in the changing world of work: Planet 50-50 by 2030” necessitates further reflection on some of the procreative considerations that impact women’s engagement in productive work.

Fertility rates can impact women’s engagement in both formal and informal work settings. As the primary providers of household care, more children means more caring responsibilities. In fact, the number and age and spacing of children affect women’s likelihood of being in wage employment.

As the primary caregivers, women’s health is important not just to them but to the households that depend on them. In this vein, it is important that deliberate commitment and investment of resources in improving women’s health is prioritised because women’s health issues and their resultant empowerment have a sphere of influence that goes beyond women.

An important area of focus for the women should be the formulation of action plans, interventions and programs that are geared towards addressing sexual and reproductive health needs.

Key among these actions is the increased uptake of voluntary Family Planning among women. Family planning is critical in as far as giving women some decision-making power on pregnancy and child bearing.

The real success of the women’s empowerment should not only be defined by institutional emancipation but rather by how many women can make and effect personal choices over their own health, their children, and family.

Access to affordable family planning services is a pathway to realising this type of all-encompassing empowerment. Existing evidence shows that Universal Health Coverage and family planning are complimentary; usage of modern family planning methods is associated with reductions in maternal and child morbidity and mortality.

Family planning helps to delay pregnancy and child birth and related complications, as well avert unwanted pregnancies and abortions with resultant consequences.

Beyond this, we need to recognise the broader economic benefits of family planning. For example, investment in family planning contributes to improved health outcomes for mother and father and the baby alike.

Better spaced children allow families to spend more quality time together and afford mothers the opportunity to breastfeed. When families have fewer children, they are able to save for their broader development or investment needs instead of spending all their incomes on daily food, clothing, school fees and health care.

Similarly, when women have their babies well-spaced out, they are more likely to get time for engaging in income generating activities and contribute to community development. Generally, families that utilize family planning are more likely to enjoy good nutrition and good education.  

As Uganda strives towards achieving Planet 50-50 by 2030 where both women and men are equally engaged in work, strategies that aim at affording women an opportunity to engage in productive work need to be explored, and family planning is critical in that pursuit.

The government through the ministry of Health under the Health Sector Development Plan (HSDP), has committed to providing its citizens with “essential, quality and affordable health care whenever needed”. However, there are still some challenges particularly in the field of family planning service delivery.

We recently visited about 20 facilities spread across the four administrative regions of Uganda, and conducted interviews with stakeholders and family planning service providers.

During this visit, it was clear that issues around supply chain, availability counselling, stigmatization of young unmarried youth from using contraceptives, limited support from and for men and in some instances limited knowledge among service providers. These are critical issues that need to be addressed for communities to fully embrace family planning.

Going forward, while we celebrate this women’s day 2017, a lot still needs to be done in ensuring that women have power over choices that concern their health, and everyone must join hands to embrace the women empowerment agenda particularly through focusing on women’s health.
The writers work at the Economic Policy Research Centre and ‘Supporting Policy Engagement for Evidence-based Decisions.’