ADVOCATING FOR CHANGE
Family planning programs need political support to operate successfully. Government policies, laws, regulations and funding priorities can either help or hinder the delivery of family planning services. Advocates play an essential role: they generate support for family planning policies, build strategic alliances and lobby decision makers for change.
In the Philippines, a 15-year campaign by civil society advocates and political leaders has finally paid off. The Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act was signed into law in December 2012, guaranteeing universal access to contraception, sex education and maternal care. But church groups immediately filed petitions arguing that the law was unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court halted implementation. Finally, after more than a year of deliberation, the court ruled in April 2014 that the law was constitutional. As a result, virtually all forms of contraception will now be freely available at public health clinics. Sex education will be provided in schools, and public health workers will receive family planning training.
In Uganda, the long-awaited National Population Council bill was signed into law in June 2014. The bill will create a new government body—the National Population Council—to oversee the country’s population, reproductive health and family planning policies. Advocates in Uganda have been working toward this result for more than a decade, beginning with recommendations from the government’s own Population Secretariat (POPSEC). The final push to move the bill through parliament and onto the president’s desk was organized by a consortium of advocates in government and civil society: POPSEC, leaders in parliament, Partners in Population and the Development Africa Regional Office, Reproductive Health Uganda (the local IPPF Member Association) and Advance Family Planning. At Uganda’s first National Family Planning Conference, held in July 2014, President Museveni announced his endorsement of family planning as a key strategy for accelerating social and economic transformation.
These are big wins, with national—and international—repercussions. But advocacy is also important at the lower levels of government. Indeed, with decentralization a factor in so many countries, micro-targeted advocacy efforts are essential.
In Indonesia, advocates worked with Advance Family Planning to develop an evidence-based approach to five district mayors. Their goal was to persuade the mayors to increase district budget allocations for family planning. By marshalling and presenting an array of evidence—local service statistics, costed action plans, return-on-investment data—the advocates were able to make their case. All five mayors raised their budget allocations for family planning, with increases ranging from 20% in Bandung district to nearly 80% in Pontianak district (measured from 2010 to 2013).
In Sierra Leone, Marie Stopes Sierra Leone (MSSL) led a successful effort to streamline the process for securing duty waivers on the import of contraceptive commodities. The existing waiver system was cumbersome and slow, and commodities were being held up at port for 21 days to six months. This exacerbated the stock-out situation in the country, while the demurrage charges at port (penalty fees for uncollected shipments) drove up the cost of family planning supplies. With a grant from the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition, MSSL formed an action committee to lobby the government for change. After months of negotiations, a new policy was put in place: duty waivers would be approved on demand, freeing up the commodities to be cleared within one day of arrival.