In 1971, the world was a different place demographically. Our planet was mostly agrarian, family sizes were large and birth control was unavailable. That year, FHI 360’s heritage organization, the International Fertility Research Program, was created to perform clinical trials of emerging contraceptive technologies, such as oral hormonal contraception and intrauterine devices (IUDs). These studies helped jump-start global family planning programs, creating health services for women where none had previously existed.
1994: Setting a new agenda
Fast forward to 1994, the year of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). This pivotal global event caused a seismic shift in family planning, from concern about population growth to a commitment to reproductive rights and justice. Women’s empowerment took center stage. Issues related to sexually transmitted infections, especially HIV, were folded into the sexual and reproductive health agenda.
The ICPD also strengthened voluntary family planning as a fundamental human right. This enabled women and couples to determine the timing and spacing of their pregnancies. With control over their fertility, women improved both their personal health and their career aspirations. Family size preferences decreased, and the demand for more effective, longer-acting contraception increased.
Family planning drives development
Today, the shift from larger to smaller families represents one of the most important transformations in developing regions. This shift was made possible in large part by the increased availability of modern contraception. Demographers have traditionally defined “modern” as any method other than “traditional” (for example, natural family planning and withdrawal). During the past two decades, evidence has demonstrated the contributions that family planning can make to global health and development, including progress toward the Millennium Development Goals.