A woman in Bangladesh tends to her crops.
A woman in Bangladesh tends to her crops. | Photo credit: USAID

Helping People and the Planet Flourish Through Family Planning

By Aoife O’Connor

This blog was originally posted on usaid.gov in 2021. 


The world faces a profound climate crisis that requires collective action and integrated solutions. Although the impacts of climate change are felt by all, women and girls, in all their diversity, are disproportionately affected—experiencing poor maternal health outcomes, disruptions to vital health services, and higher rates of child marriage and gender-based violence.

Incorporating access to sexual and reproductive health services, including voluntary contraception, among a set of holistic interventions can mitigate these risks, enabling girls and women to delay and plan their pregnancies and better protect their health and that of their children—which, in turn, helps build resilience at the individual, household and community level.

The Biden-Harris Administration has elevated climate change as a core U.S. foreign policy priority. USAID is supporting this critical directive by elevating and integrating key issues around climate justice and equity, including active collaboration with indigenous peoples, women and girls, youth, and others who face the brunt of the climate crisis, yet have historically had limited influence over decision-making.

As the world comes together at COP26 for the most significant global climate conference since 2015, we have a tremendous opportunity to address long-standing inequities exacerbated by climate change by focusing on how climate disruptions disproportionately affect women and girls, and highlighting solutions to address these challenges. USAID upholds the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to integrating climate considerations across all of its global initiatives, including by meeting the family planning and reproductive health needs of communities around the world.

Climate Change and Reproductive Health

An estimated 218 million women in low- and middle-income countries have an unmet need for family planning, meaning they want to prevent or delay a future pregnancy, but are not using a modern method of contraception. Across the globe, communities in regions that are most vulnerable to climate change also experience the highest unmet need for family planning. In some settings, low access to family planning and reproductive health services can contribute to limitations around mobility, access to education, jobs, land tenure, and resources that facilitate the ability of women, girls, youth, and indigenous communities to adapt to and respond to climate change. Population, Environment, and Development (PED) approaches—interventions that take a holistic and integrated approach to health and the environment—can yield positive health, environmental and climate change outcomes that are greater than single-sector interventions alone. Additionally, PED programming can enhance women’s livelihoods, provide youth with skills and leadership opportunities, improve gender dynamics, and increase economic stability—giving households more assets to draw on in the face of a crisis. Learn more about the benefits of PED approaches here.

Prioritizing the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls and including women’s voices in climate discourse is essential to lasting, equitable, and sustainable climate action. USAID remains committed to supporting women, girls, and youth as powerful agents of change in tackling the climate crisis.”

- Dr. Jennifer Adams, USAID Global Health Bureau Acting Assistant Administrator

Because integrated programming can help communities adapt to climate change more effectively, USAID’s PED investments provide an opportunity to harness collective momentum in both the family planning and environmental health fields. Here are three ways that USAID’s investments in integrated family planning approaches are addressing the climate crisis.

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A group of ten people smile and stand in a field of crops
Climate youth leaders gather in a field.

Investing in the Next Generation of Climate Leaders

Young people can be powerful agents of change in tackling the climate crisis. USAID works to strengthen the capacity of young change makers to influence the policy environment in their communities related to family planning, reproductive health, environment and development initiatives. With USAID support, environmental youth champions trained in policy communication have led efforts to prioritize land distribution for rural women and marginalized groups in South Africa, enhance access to vital health care in Uganda, and protect local ecosystems as well as incorporate youth and gender-sensitive considerations into country climate change plans in Kenya.

Facilitating Global Conversations on the Connections Between People and Planet

Structured dialogue across diverse coalitions of experts can help increase global awareness and encourage action on the links between people’s health and the environment. This year, USAID supported the launch of People-Planet Connection, a virtual platform for global health and development professionals to learn, collaborate, and engage in timely and essential dialogue about policy, research and implementation, in addition to accessing a variety of relevant cross-sectoral resources. This new platform enables experts to lead conversations about the intersectionality of climate change, gender, and health, and find solutions to build safe, resilient, and sustainable communities.

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A group of three people pointing to a card
People in Ghana discuss the climate.

Modeling Sustainable PED Approaches for Future Generations

The many ecosystems that sustain communities around the world are increasingly threatened by a changing climate—placing pressure on vital natural resources and harming health outcomes, including sexual and reproductive health. Projects like HoPE-LVB provide models for successful PED initiatives that integrate health, sustainable livelihoods, and biodiversity conservation. Located in the environmentally rich Lake Victoria Basin, the HoPE-LVB project packaged reproductive health services alongside environmental efforts that promoted sustainable fishing and forestry practices. HoPE-LVB helped communities set up climate change adaptation measures and improve food security, agricultural sustainability, and health, all of which contribute to people’s ability to bounce back from environmental shocks and stressors. Over the course of eight years, USAID’s support improved access to health information and services, including voluntary family planning, while engaging communities in environmental conservation efforts, providing long-lasting protection for 200+ breeding zones in the world’s largest freshwater fishery.

As the world’s largest bilateral donor of voluntary family planning and reproductive health assistance, USAID’s support for family planning helps ensure the health and well-being of communities and the environmental resources they depend on. Building on decades of leadership for integrated PED initiatives, this year, USAID announced a new award called BUILD: Building Capacity for Integrated Family Planning & Reproductive Health and Population, Environment and Development Action. The BUILD project will leverage the collective leadership of a consortium of country-based partners to ensure that decision makers understand the crucial role family planning programs play in ensuring environmental sustainability and better development outcomes.

By empowering the next generation of climate leaders, amplifying conversations around the people-planet connection, and investing in integrated programs, USAID family planning investments support efforts to build a healthier and more climate resilient future for all.

Sectors
Climate, Health
Strategic Objective
Adaptation
Topics
Climate, Gender and Social Inclusion, Health

Aoife O’Connor

Aoife O’Connor is the Strategic Communications and Outreach Intern in USAID’s Office of Population and Reproductive Health.

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