This is a joint blog by PAI President, Suzanne Ehlers and Beth Fredrick, Deputy Project Director at Advance Family Planning
The Stanford Social Innovation Review calls it the “elusive craft of evaluating advocacy”.
For those who have been advocates for entire careers, the reasons are clear, and abundant:
Often the best advocacy efforts result in no headlines—meaning that you saved something from being cut or undermined. So in the end, the story is that there is no story.
Or your funded effort, however small or large, came in at that magical “tipping point”, but so much and so many paved the way that you can’t take undue credit for the success. That’s a hard story to sell to donors sounding the drum of “impact giving” and a results framework.
So what to do when there is concrete proof of a success, all tidy and clear in 425 concise pages? You publicize the heck out of it, because these opportunities are rare indeed.
The report in question is the World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development released last week. The issue in question is family planning and reproductive health. The story goes a little like this:
A number of us—individuals, government agencies, non-profit organizations, private foundations—have stepped up our engagement with the Bank in recent years. Partly out of necessity—there was a small kerfuffle around selective censorship on family planning a few years ago—and partly out of a renewed recognition that the Bank had enough of a non-record on family planning and reproductive health that we might strongly influence the emergence of a positive record. More to the point, in an era of stiff competition for health and development funds, we knew a strong stance by the Bank was critical to securing strong national commitments to women and women’s health.
So with a strong Reproductive Health Action Plan 2010-2015 in hand, and civil society partners engaged in tracking the RHAP’s progress, we looked forward to the 2012 report. Given the strong link between family planning and women’s empowerment and economic development, we fully expected it to include yet another, even more compelling rationale for investing in women’s reproductive health and meeting unsatisfied demand for contraceptive services and supplies.
It was not to be.
The whisper campaign was that early drafts included limited mention of these vital interventions. Reliable whispers (that were based on private briefings with World Bank staff) and early outlines posted on the Bank’s Web site suggested that neither family planning nor reproductive health were listed as priority actions.
What to do? The Bank is largely a mystery when it comes to knowing precisely who sets policy and in this case who was best placed to correct the oversight. Moreover, we weren’t protesting, we were providing what we hoped would be compelling enough evidence to ensure strong mention of reproductive health and family planning. In the end, the Bank staff and the authors of the report saw the point and the WDR 2012 is a powerful guide to current thinking on how to support women in making their own contributions to communities and countries.
So what made the difference? At the most basic level, it was a marriage of evidence and influence. As some mobilized the best available research, others reached out in a targeted way to Executive Directors on the Bank Boards of Directors.
[WDR 2012] notes that while there has been significant progress in expanding access to reproductive health services around the world, gaps remain in many places and for many groups of women, and that substantial challenges persist both in terms of quality of services and in terms of women’s agency and freedom/ability to use these services even when available. The Report also notes the importance of investing in adolescent girls and boys, and makes this one of its global priorities. The Report’s findings are expected to provide strong guidance and messages for policymakers and development practitioners around the world on the importance of gender equality. We also expect it to strengthen the Bank’ s own work on gender equality in many ways, including our support for reproductive health services and family planning.
An emphasis on increasing women’s control over fertility now threads through the WDR 2012. It focuses both on improving delivery and quality of family planning services and on improving women’s ability within households to voice their preferences regarding the number and spacing of their children.
So, if you’re reading this and want to be a part of seeing more of the world’s wealth and the World Bank’s loans go to women, the next step is to read the WDR, and thank the Bank Executive Directors for their leadership on reproductive health and family planning.
We will be right there with you sending our own thank you letters. But, as advocates, we know we’ll also need to be vigilant to see that the promise of words on paper is fulfilled.