Seeing is Believing for Family Planning Advocates in Peru

In January, PAI partnered with Pathfinder International with generous support from the United Nations Foundation to take five U.S. community leaders to Peru to see U.S. international family planning and reproductive health assistance in action and gain a better understanding of the benefits and challenges of providing these services in Peru.   The delegation visited with Peru’s Ministry of Health, USAID funded projects, private and public health facilities, and advocacy leaders from civil society.

The trip was timely as several weeks ago, the Peruvian courts declared unconstitutional a law which made sex illegal for people under eighteen. This law meant that not only was it illegal for teenagers to have sex, but also illegal for them to purchase or receive information about condoms or contraceptives.  Peru has extremely high rates of teen pregnancy and the law, along with other restrictive policies, is driven by ideology, rather than public health best practices. Opponents of contraception, including the Catholic Church, are active in Peru.

In addition to learning about national level context, trip participants also explored the implications of Peru’s “graduation” from USAID’s family planning program. While Peru’s overall economic improvement and rise to a middle income country means that it can and should assume more of the responsibility of providing access to contraceptives and reproductive health care, many worry that politics and a lack of solid health infrastructure will cause setbacks in the gains made with USAID’S support.  Macro indicators of health progress also mask inequalities that persist among rural and urban, poor and rich, and educated and uneducated women.

And while USAID will no longer support family planning programs in Peru, they continue to invest in environmental, trade, and governance efforts.  Several informants noted that it is shortsighted not be integrating family planning and reproductive health services into these programs.  However, with a long history of underfunding and repeated attempts in the last U.S. Congress to cut funding for international family planning programs, USAID is left to make tough decisions on where to invest its inadequate resources.  We hope that trips like these help inspire a new cadre of voices in the effort to increase this funding and promote sound policies to govern it.

This trip builds on PAI’s more than  15 years of experience showing Members of Congress and their staff, donors, and advocates the need for and value of international family planning and reproductive health programs.  Since 1998, PAI has taken eight Members of Congress and over 70 staff members to Africa, Asia, and South America.  This trip also expands upon a more recent PAI initiative to galvanize new voices in target U.S. Congressional districts to support the U.S. international family planning/reproductive health program and draw linkages between domestic and international choice issues.  To date, PAI has held events in Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.

PAI believes that “seeing is believing” and are excited to continue to work with all of our trip participants and partners to advance the funding and policy needed to expand access to family planning and reproductive health services worldwide.