This week, more than 3,700 participants will gather in Kigali, Rwanda, for the fifth International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP). What is at stake? The lives and well-being of an estimated 214 million women of reproductive age in developing countries who want to avoid or delay pregnancy but are not using an effective form of modern contraception.
The Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe women (DREAMS) partnership aspires to reduce HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women in 10 sub-Saharan African countries. These countries alone accounted for more than half of the HIV infections that occurred among adolescent girls and young women globally in 2015.
DREAMS reaches beyond the health sector to address the direct and indirect factors that increase girls’ HIV risk, such as poverty, gender inequality, sexual violence and inadequate education. Interventions can include paying school fees, providing bicycles to girls who would otherwise walk long distances to school, supplying sanitary napkins for menstrual hygiene management and offering mentoring to help girls avoid early pregnancy, gender-based violence and discrimination. DREAMS is supported by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Girl Effect, Johnson & Johnson, Gilead Sciences and ViiV Healthcare.
Two young women who participate in DREAMS projects attended FHI 360’s 2018 Gender 360 Summit and discussed how DREAMS is making a difference in their lives. Here are their stories.
At FHI 360, we take a 360-degree perspective to addressing the most complex human development needs. We envision many pathways to girls’ and women’s economic empowerment — through education; training; access to resources; and the elimination of social, political and gender-related barriers.
To increase equality between girls, boys, women and men, we believe that a gender perspective has to be integrated into every aspect of all development programs.
FHI 360 supports women and girls living in poverty, through cutting-edge interventions in health, nutrition, education and economic development interventions. Not only are we implementing some of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) flagship projects on HIV care, prevention and support — we are also working with multiple donors implementing girls’ education projects as a pathway out of poverty.
We are addressing women’s poverty in value chains, small and medium businesses, and micro-lending and savings and loan activities. Equally important, we work to engage men and boys as partners and agents of positive social change.
Why prioritize attention on women and girls? For FHI 360, it comes down to three simple reasons:
- It is the right thing to do.
- It improves project outcomes.
- FHI 360 has strong political will to do so at all levels of the organization.
We aim to impact in the short, medium and long term the lives of women and girls in many countries. We want to improve women’s and girls’ current access to resources, their economic empowerment, their levels of education and their resiliency in the face of hardship.
We know what we can achieve.
And we know what needs to be done.
We know that improving access to family planning can reduce maternal and child mortality. Moreover, as long as women are unable to negotiate the number and spacing of their children, gains will be limited. We know that exclusive breastfeeding provides an infant the best start in life. Yet, evidence shows that a child born to a mother who has had access to quality education, especially secondary education, has a greater chance of surviving to see her fifth birthday than a child whose mother has no education. In countries around the world, we have reduced dramatically the incidence of HIV. Yet, gender violence and sexual exploitation will need to be addressed as part of the solution if we are to halt the spread of the disease.
Last week, the United Nations General Assembly debated the post-2015 agenda, and it has never been more clear that women and girls must be top of mind in the global development discussion. Only when we transform unequal gender norms will we be able to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges. This means taking a broader approach than what we have done in the past by integrating gender concerns and putting women and girls front and center in every post-2015 priority.