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Seema Jalan

Seema Jalan - 2016 Nominee
Position: Senior Director
Organization: Universal Access Project/UN Foundation
Seema has successfully enabled U.S. NGOs to more effectively advocate for global family planning. She has reached out to U.S. political leaders in new and innovative ways, leading to strong US funding – Nominator
Seema Jalan has galvanized US leadership on reproductive health, contributing to increased US funding and improved US policies in global family planning programs. She has spearheaded new communication – Nominator
Describe your contributions to and achievements in family planning.

Resource mobilization. I'm privileged to partner with foundations and NGOs to ensure that one of the largest global health actors - the U.S. government - robustly funds and supports sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services and information. Despite attacks by conservative American lawmakers, we've worked together to protect more than $600 million in annual funding for global reproductive health and family planning programs - representing 44% of all bilateral aid. Further, we seek to ensure that U.S. foreign policy puts girls and women's health and rights at the center - by integrating access to SRH through other health and development efforts (for ex, through the first-ever U.S. Global Strategy on Adolescents). I am also proud to help support the sustainability of the advocacy field.

What sparked your passion for family planning?

My own access to contraceptives allowed me to wait to have my son at the right time - it seems so basic for everyone to have those same options. I was trained in the global women's rights movement, focused on economic empowerment and ending gender-based violence; but even there SRHR is often marginalized although it's fundamental to the achievement of gender equality. I'm now lucky enough to spend all of my time on SRH and to learn from the best experts and ordinary girls and women everywhere.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your family planning efforts, and what have you done to overcome it?

As someone who works on policy advocacy, family planning is either targeted for cuts or ignored completely. Our challenge is institutionalizing access to voluntary, quality, human-centered family planning services and information as a 'no-brainer' in the U.S. approach to global health, development and humanitarian response. As a community of advocates, we build a personalized strategy around each key decision-maker to grow their support until there's no denying a consensus on this issue.

What is your (country/region/city)’s biggest challenge in family planning, and how can it be addressed?

Political will. The U.S. has the resources to meet domestic SRH needs and to contribute responsibly to global unmet need - but the current majority view of the U.S. electorate does not support this. We bring together the media, donors, faith leaders, environmental groups, researchers, human rights organizations, development practitioners, young leaders and advocates to demonstrate a broad diversity of support and to make the case to policymakers with the most influential messengers.

What do you want to accomplish in the next 5 years?

Our goal is "more money, well spent": for the U.S. to contribute at least $1 billion annually to international reproductive health and family planning programs and for U.S. international assistance to systematically address sexual and reproductive health and rights as an integral component of U.S. efforts on global health, development and gender equality.

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