As a student, activist, and young professional I have contributed to family planning in my work to empower girls and women. While studying in a conservative US state – Virginia – I led awareness-raising and advocacy efforts on reproductive justice, such as organizing demonstrations against legislation that limited women’s family planning choices. I have also worked with peers in Rwanda to increase their capacity as advocates and change agents on a range of social justice and health issues, including family planning. As a young professional on the USAID-funded SHOPS Plus project I currently work to support access to family planning in Nepal and Afghanistan. Finally, I was selected as a youth ambassador at the 2016 ICFP, where I was able to engage with other youth leaders in the FP field.
My interest in family planning began when I read “Half the Sky” as a teenager. I identified the ability to choose if and when to have a family as a key theme in the wellbeing of the women in the book, and the women I knew in my life. I was frustrated by the barriers women face to accessing care. Advancing access to family planning is a rewarding and necessary effort that improves not only the lives of individuals, but our global health, economic, environmental, and social wellbeing.
A challenge across my family planning efforts is lack of information and misinformation. In the US and in Rwanda, I worked with capable peer leaders, but even these young women cited myths about family planning and sexuality – such as “you can get pregnant from a pool.” My peers were also often unaware of FP options or where to seek care. In both of these scenarios my solution was to point people to information sources and to ensure that I did not promote any stigmas or misinformation.
Across the US many women cannot access family planning services. In Texas, for example, a state law has forced 82 women’s health clinics to close (NPR, 2016). Even in states that support family planning access, many women face economic and social barriers that prevent them from accessing care. Garnering political support, reducing stigma, and ensuring universal health coverage will be critical to addressing this problem.
In the next five years I want to build my technical skills in family planning and to begin additional education. I hope to ultimately earn a law degree, so I can understand, advocate for, and develop policy that empowers women and girls. In particular, I hope to advocate for the rights of marginalized groups such as women in conflict areas - including ensuring access to family planning services.