20.12.2017

The Ouagadougou Partnership held its sixth annual meeting

The meeting focused on “women’s empowerment and the contraception revolution” in Conakry from December 12th to 14th 2017 with religious actors as significant participants.

Article by Katherine Marshall (WFDD)

The Ouagadougou Partnership (OP) grew from a February 2011 conference in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso on population, development, and family planning. Nine governments of Francophone West African countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Togo), with several committed financial and technical partners, agreed to cooperate to achieve a precise set of targets, thus accelerating progress in the use of family planning services across the region. The 2017 Conakry meeting represented the sixth annual stocktaking. The theme this year was “women’s empowerment and the contraception revolution”. The tone was celebratory: significant success was reported towards the ambitious objective of 2.2 million additional women using modern contraceptive methods by 2020. In two years the partnership secretariat estimates 910,000 new family planning users and 74,000 risky abortions and 810 maternal deaths avoided. Details by country are presented in the “flipping book” (link in the right column).

The context of the meeting is that this sub-region has the world’s highest fertility rates and fastest growing population, with an average of 5.5 children per woman.

Contraceptive prevalence is low. About 25 percent of married women age 15-49 would like to space or limit births but are not using modern contraceptive methods, often because family planning services are not available. A result is very high rates of maternal and child mortality: 225 women die every day while giving birth, and for every woman who dies, approximately 30 others suffer infirmity. These morbidity and mortality rates cause around US$5 billion of productivity losses in the region and stymie prospects for sustainable development. And assistance to Sub-Saharan Francophone countries for family planning interventions is low: between 1997 and 2007, this assistance was estimated at US$0.86 per capita compared to US$1.25 per capita for Anglophone and Lusophone countries in the region.

Some 350 people participated, in several distinct categories or constituencies. The nine government delegations included government officials (most from ministries of health), civil society, youth, parliamentarians, journalists, and religious figures. The donor group is well established; core partners are USAID, Canada, ECOWAS, UNFPA, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Agence Française de Développement, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Government of Canada, and the Government of Netherlands. Technical partners include international and local NGOs and consulting firms, and private sector representatives. Noteworthy was also the presence of a group of mayors.

Women’s empowerment, (l'autonomisation de la femme), the year’s central theme, was highlighted throughout, notwithstanding the ironic reality of a preponderance of men in speaking positions. The French word “autonomisation” generated considerable discussion: what in fact is meant? Can someone be “given” autonomy? And implicitly is that a good thing? The important roles that men play were emphasized repeatedly.

The ambitious six country Sahel Women’s Empowerment Program (SWED), supported notably by the World Bank, was part of the discussion, with a focus both on the hoped for demographic dividend and links to issues of education of girls and income generating options for women. Engaging religious leaders is a relatively new area of focus in the OP program and each country delegation was invited to include two religious figures. WFDD and CRSD were invited separately, as WFDD is engaged in a pioneering and promising strategic interreligious project in Senegal.

The conference’s liveliest session included a presentation by Sheikh Saliou Mbacké (Cadre des religieux pour la Santé et le Développement - CRSD), who leads the Senegal project, on religious roles in family planning. He emphasized the shared concerns with family welfare and importance of religious actors on many dimensions of the issue, but also the significance and sensitivity of socio-cultural differences that must be taken into account if clashes of values and communities are to be avoided. The region has a majority of Muslims, but a diversity of religious traditions, and religious leaders are seen, sometimes uneasily, as having a large and not always positive influence on attitudes and behaviors in relation to family planning. While here is no single religious position on family planning, adolescent sexuality outside marriage is an especially uncomfortable topic, as is education about reproductive health. The perils of early and forced marriage are only now making their way into the religious discussion. Many OP members recognize the need to involve religious actors in more systematic ways but this clearly requires sensitivity and wisdom. The group of “youth ambassadors” peppered Sheikh Mbacké with challenges and questions in the session, highlighting the sticky and sensitive topics. Careful but deliberate engagement and dialogue with these groups will be vital for continuing success.

Further information on PaRD

If you would like to learn more about PaRD, please access How PaRD Works, read our mission statementpartnership principles, and visit our World Map. You can also find out about our members and partners, or download our introductory presentation.