Gender + Equality

Family Planning: Turning Taboo into Action

The third in a series of articles from FP2020 to mark the midpoint of the initiative.

FP2020 Midpoint youth SM graphics_7-8_ThumbNail

The facts are startling—and deeply disturbing.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO), complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the second leading cause of death for 15- to 19-year-old girls globally. Every day, almost 800 women and girls die of pregnancy-related complications; 99% of these are in developing countries and nearly all are preventable. And every year, some 3 million girls aged 15 to 19 undergo unsafe abortions.

The scenario is the same in the Philippines. The recent Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study showed that 14 in 100 girls (15-19 years old) have begun childbearing; 11 percent are already mothers while 2.6 percent are pregnant with their first child. Fourteen to fifteen mothers die every day due to pregnancy – related complications. Ten percent of maternal deaths are from teenagers.

The situation is a bit more dismal in rural areas. Girls there are more likely to start early childbearing than those living in urban areas (11% vs 8%).  Similarly, less educated young women are more likely to start early child bearing than better educated women. Unmet need for family planning methods are highest among the 15-19 years of age (37%) followed by the 20-24 years old (29%).

None of these are problems that can be solved overnight. But pretending they don’t exist is not the answer either.

As a doctor and the former Secretary of the Department of Health, I know that the increase in teen pregnancies is due to our youth’s lack of knowledge about safe sex and family planning. I also know that teen motherhood creates challenges in a young woman’s life, making it difficult to finish her education, which can impact her future.

Youth and adolescents need and deserve access to contraceptive information, services and supplies, but unfortunately often face overwhelming barriers. WHO states that some girls are not exposed to sex education and, therefore, do not know how to avoid getting pregnant. Others are too shy or ashamed to ask for contraception—and contraception can also be too expensive, not readily available or not legally acceptable. And then there is the sad reality that some girls may be unable to refuse unwanted sexual advances or to resist coerced sex, which tends to be unprotected.

As a doctor and the former Secretary of the Department of Health, I know that the increase in teen pregnancies is due to our youth’s lack of knowledge about safe sex and family planning.

For family planning to work, we need to make it accessible and affordable to all who need it—regardless of age, geography or financial means. One of the efforts that I am extremely proud of is shepherding the passage of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law. This law protects and fulfills the rights of adolescents and youth to receive accurate information, comprehensive sexuality education and health services for their well-being and lifelong health.

While it is encouraging that some countries are addressing family planning themselves, I firmly believe that the magnitude and challenges of reproductive health and family planning needs are too great for any one country, organization or sector to address alone. We need global partnerships that emphasize shared responsibilities for improving health outcomes to reach our Sustainable Development Goal of achieving universal access to family planning by 2030.

The fact is that partnerships work. Four years after the inception of Family Planning 2020 (FP2020), the renewed attention has strengthened family planning programs globally. Today, an unprecedented 290.6 million women and girls are using modern contraception in the 69 FP2020 focus countries, an increase of 24.4 million from 2012. From July 2012 to July 2015, the average increase in mCPR was two times greater among FP2020 commitment-making countries. And more countries commit and recommit to the initiative, demonstrating that our collective vision and energy behind family planning is driving the progress we are seeing.

The Philippines was among the first countries to commit to FP2020 and is actively promoting informed family planning decision-making by men and women. Since 2012, an additional 679,000 women and girls have begun using modern contraception.  Modern contraceptive prevalence rate increased to 37.6% from 34.0% in 2008.

Yet, in spite of the significant strides made here in the Philippines and in other countries, we risk falling short of meeting the FP2020 goal and we must take immediate action to fast-track progress.  We must reexamine our commitments to ensure we’re doing all we can, and reinvigorate our efforts wherever necessary.

Family planning is a deeply personal issue. But it is also an issue, particularly in low- income countries, that has serious consequences for young women and their communities. Across the 69 FP2020 focus countries, there were 45.4 million more women of reproductive age in 2015 than there were in 2012. Each one of them is counting on us. We can turn the tide and work together to provide more women and girls with family planning information and services they need and want.


July 11 marked the midpoint of Family Planning 2020 (FP2020), the global partnership that supports the rights of women and girls to decide, freely and for themselves, whether, when, and how many children they want to have. This blog is part of a series that looks at a key intervention to accelerate progress on our goal to enable an additional 120 million women and girls to use modern family planning methods: ensuring young people have the right to plan their families and their futures. We know that the ability to reach more young people with contraception in ways that speak to their own needs and desires is essential to achieving our goal by 2020, which is a critical milestone on the road to 2030 and providing universal access to family planning under the Sustainable Development Goals. For more information, visit

Image: UNFPA. 

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