Notes from the future of women’s reproductive health: the need for evidence, innovation, and action

By Fernande Legros, Full Circle Fund Program Officer

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At the very beginning of this year, women’s access to reproductive health care seemed to be on everyone’s minds. Recent months have seen new policies enacted threatening to undo decades of work; hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets across the world in a defiant show of solidarity, and many valiant efforts were made to stall the various attempts to restrict women’s reproductive rights.

As new barriers and challenges arise to limit women’s access to the care they need, many Full Circle Fund Members and community supporters have found it difficult to know what to do or whom to trust. At the national level, the conversation is often charged and lopsided; the telling of the facts somewhat muddled; and the challenges seemingly insurmountable.

On Tuesday, May 17th, Full Circle Fund’s Health Circle, in collaboration with PATH, hosted a community-wide conversation between PATH’s Martha Brady, Hewlett Foundation’s Margot Fahnestock, and Planned Parenthood NorCal’s Gilda Gonzales - and moderated by our very own Kristen Pedersen - to reflect on the current state of women’s access to reproductive health and health equity at home and abroad.

The struggle for reproductive justice, as we learned, is a complex, deeply personal, and polarizing issue that concerns more than just the control of women’s bodies. It goes beyond family planning and access to contraception. It goes beyond the current political moment. Evidence shows that when women are in control of their bodies - of when, how, with whom they have a family - the positive effects ripple to the larger community and make economic freedom possible.

The conversation, which was hosted at COVO, touched upon the Mexico City Policy and its repercussions; the need for evidence-based, user-designed, context-specific interventions; the role of men as allies; and the ways philanthropy needs to shift to continue to foster innovation.

While the picture seemed bleak at times, we were reminded that much progress has been made; of the innovations in approaches to bring health care within the reach of those most poor and vulnerable; and of the many unsung heroes in communities around the world pushing to provide health options to women.

Gilda encouraged the audience to tell their personal stories about their healthcare needs and to share these stories not just with each other, but also with the men in their lives. From Margot, we heard about the inspiring organizations in West Africa thinking outside the box to make healthcare accessible to all and the need for flexible funding and greater collaboration. And from Martha, we were reminded that innovation does not have to be technology-based and to think expansively about changing human behavior.

We left feeling inspired not just by the hard work and commitment of our speakers and the organizations they represent, but also by the 100+ guests who flooded our space and showed up ready to engage. Your energy and passion for this work was palpable and we hope this won’t be the last.

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