To reach 2020 goals, the London Summit on Family Planning cannot afford to leave refugees behind

Tyler Jump/The IRC

Hadija was four months pregnant when she fled Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria in late 2016. After weeks of trekking through the bush, while carrying her oldest son on her back and without sufficient food or water, Hadija made it to Bakassi Camp in Maiduguri, where she gave birth. Though happy to have made it to relative safety with her two children, Hadija has an uncertain future. After hearing about the IRC’s family planning services for women and girls in the camp, she decided to start using contraception.

“I decided to come for family planning, because I don’t want to have another baby soon, in this circumstance with insufficient food, little space and no freedom,” Hadija explained. “Our tent is close to the facility and, after the counseling, I chose the injection method.”

Hadija receiving counseling services at Bakassi’s IRC-supported facility. Photo by the IRC.

More than 65 million people — like Hadija — have been forcibly displaced from their homes by conflict and disaster. Half of whom are women and girls. Very often women and girls find themselves in places with little to no access to family planning services, rendering them vulnerable to unplanned pregnancies, pregnancy complications, and without recourse from the consequences of sexual and gender-based violence.

A 2015 global evaluation revealed that reproductive health services remains drastically underfunded in humanitarian settings — particularly comprehensive family planning and emergency contraception. More than half of the countries at risk for conflict and natural disaster are also in a group of 13 countries with low contraceptive prevalence and slowest growth of new users.

Last week, the Inter-Agency Working Group (IAWG) for Reproductive Health in Crises brought together humanitarians and advocates, including the IRC, to discuss how to meet family planning needs in emergencies. One goal of the meeting was to recommend actions for delegates who will attend the July 2017 London Summit on Family Planning — organized by the UK Department for International Development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and UNFPA. Attendees will include donors, governments, service providers, and other family planning advocates.

The working group meeting allowed partners to share their experiences providing contraception to women like Hadija and to identify barriers that prevent humanitarian services from reaching more women in crisis settings. Family planning service providers and other experts worked in groups to build the case for the urgent need for contraception for displaced populations.

In 2012, the first London Summit on Family Planning pledged to provide access to contraception for the first time to 120 million women and girls by 2020. In the five years since 2012, more than 30 million women have gained access to modern contraception. While this is encouraging, there were 19 million fewer users than hoped for in 2016, many of them living in countries affected by crises. The 2017 London Summit aims to reenergize global commitment to reach the 2020 goals.

Countries experiencing humanitarian crises should be front and center at the summit. Governments present should include humanitarian preparedness and response in their commitments, and accountability mechanisms measuring progress should be inclusive of all populations — including displaced women and girls. Donors should ensure that reliable funding reaches displaced populations and integrates family planning.

Investment in contraception is not only feasible but can be transformative. When Hadija spoke of how reproductive health services — including contraception — met the needs of women in the camp, she also spoke about informing other women about the health facility and access to contraception. Over the summer of 2016, the IRC saw around 450 new family planning clients but in the first quarter of 2017, after word spread, 2,398 women and girls received a method of family planning in the first three months of 2017.

Juliette Delay/IRC

The working group meeting made it clear that the humanitarian community has the skills and experience to increase the provision of family planning services in challenging, under-resourced settings. This summer’s London Summit on Family Planning provides an opportunity to stabilize funding, reinvigorate government commitments and gather more inclusive data. Only then can we achieve the 2020 goals of providing contraception to 120 million new women and girls.

Learn more about the IRC’s work on family planning.


The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 26 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities.

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