January 22, 2016

Parenting amidst poverty: Hope lies ahead

Written by Lauren Wolkoff, Communications Director, Family Planning 2020

Woman smiling

Darline has one message for teenage girls: “Don’t live my life.”

From her photo, you can see the weariness seep through her dark-rimmed eyes and piercing gaze. Darline is a 21-year-old Haitian farmer who lives with her partner and one-year-old son in a small house without electricity or running water. She is one of the people whose story is featured on Family Planning Voices, a new photo blog by K4Health and Family Planning 2020.

Darline had high hopes of becoming a nurse before dropping out of school. “I had to quit because I was pregnant,” she shared, adding that she didn’t know how to prevent pregnancy in her teen years.

Not far from Darline’s village, Family Planning Voices describes the story of Alexandrine Benoit, who lives a similar life, albeit with a worse twist: She became pregnant after being raped by her school principal when she was just 15. After Alexandrine told her father, he stopped paying her paying school fees and she was forced to drop out and go live with her mother.

Darline and Alexandrine’s experiences of raising children amidst deep poverty are far from uncommon. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that 19 percent of girls in the developing world become pregnant before they turn 18, while one-third are married before that age. And the health risks are staggering: Every day, 800 girls and women across the world die from pregnancy-related causes.

It doesn’t help that the mere mention of contraception in many developing countries continues to be an indescribable taboo, to the point where many women’s experiences are either left untold or shrouded in shame.

Whatever one’s cultural or religious beliefs, it must be accepted as a plain, universal truth that women need access to voluntary contraception and quality health services. Today there are 225 million women around the world who want to delay or avoid pregnancy and are not using an effective contraceptive method. The need for family planning to be spoken about freely and publicly is more crucial than ever.

That’s why Family Planning Voices seeks to break new ground in storytelling by bringing these private, intimate and often untold stories to the public fora.

It is a powerful moment when people come together and talk candidly about the information they need to make free and informed decisions about their futures. Conversations about contraception often begin with many women feeling isolated and vulnerable, but they must end with them feeling empowered, aware, and unashamed. There is an inherent beauty in the simple art of such a conversation and this is the compelling force that Family Planning Voices aims to capture.

The full impact of that force will be on display next week at the International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP), a biennial convening which brings together thousands of global policymakers and researchers, as well as faith leaders, youth, and international family planning advocates, in Nusa Dua, Indonesia, from 25-28 of January, 2016.The conference will be a crucial platform to elevate family planning and women’s and girls’ health within the new global development agenda and to ensure that access to voluntary contraceptive information and services remain a priority for policymakers, donors, and the private sector.

Both the ICFP and Family Planning Voices are launch pads to ignite passions, to spark conversations, to challenge assumptions, to share knowledge, to raise voices, to connect with each other to transform our world.

“It’s too late for me,” Darline said. But it’s not too late for millions of other girls across the world. Darline’s advice for other girls: “If the girl is at school, she can do [family] planning, continue with her studies and become somebody.”

And Alexandrine shares the same sentiment. “I would like [my children’s] lives to be different…especially the way in which I had my first child. I never had the chance to finish school. I want them to finish school.”

Darline’s and Alexandrine’s hopes for a brighter future is possible. The solution lies in changing attitudes as much as it does in distribution and access to contraceptive information, services, and supplies. Working together, we must use this pivotal moment during the ICFP to redouble our efforts to seek practical, sustainable solutions to the most difficult problems, and ensure we are making enough of an investment to deliver for the world’s women and girls.

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To learn more about the International Conference on Family Planning, visit www.fpconference.org. For more info on Family Planning Voices, visit www.fpvoices.org. Or join the conversation online with #ICFP2016 and #FPVoices. If you are attending the ICFP, please visit the ICFP and FPVoices photo booth in the convention hall.