Aerial view of local people buying and selling colorful produce from wooden boats, Vietnam. Adobe Photos

Sustainable Development

Sustainable development is defined as development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Traditionally, countries have relied on heavy natural resource extraction and fossil fuel use to grow their economies, which has precipitated our environmental crises. With an increasing number of people escaping poverty around the world, there is an urgent need to foster more sustainable development.

One way to achieve this is by accelerating progress towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 goals that aim to improve lives and protect the environment. They range from ending hunger and poverty to achieving global gender equality, universal health care, and education, to halting the climate and extinction crises.

Expanding access to reproductive health care and voluntary family planning services are targets embedded within the SDGs that help women realize their fundamental human right to control whether, when, and with whom they become pregnant. Empowering women also helps advance all of the other SDGs, and in fact represents a prerequisite for achieving many of them.

When people, in particular women and girls, gain access to health care and education, they also gain political, economic, and social power. This facilitates economic growth, improves health and livelihoods, and delivers higher levels of bodily autonomy. Because family planning enables women to autonomously manage whether and when they become pregnant, one significant outcome of providing access to contraceptives is increased education rates for women and girls. And because higher levels of education afford more options for sustained employment and improved livelihoods, educated women tend to have fewer and healthier children. As individuals, families, and communities gain access to higher levels of education and quality health care, these tools are passed on to subsequent generations. Thus, the benefits of health and education compound over time.

When reproductive autonomy is realized, women generally choose to have smaller families, which also brings social, economic, and environmental benefits, including reductions in infant and maternal mortality and improved livelihoods. Slower population growth reduces pressures on natural resources, habitats, and food systems. Within the context of climate change, slowing population growth is key to achieving climate targets, and the additional health, education, and economic benefits afforded through family planning help reduce climate vulnerability and increase resilience for communities around the world.

When women and families have access to the resources necessary in order to freely and intentionally choose the number, timing, and spacing of their births, a wide variety of health benefits ensue, including lower maternal mortality and morbidity; lower infant and child mortality; reduced rates of unintended pregnancies; lower rates of unsafe abortions; and increased overall health outcomes.

Low Section Of Women Taking Water From Tubewell In Village Area Of Haryana, India

Access to sexual and reproductive health care can influence population dynamics through voluntary fertility reductions and lower infant and maternal mortality rates. Additional benefits include better health outcomes and higher life expectancies for women and children; greater individual rights; lower poverty rates; higher education rates for women and girls; and slower population growth.

People walking down main road in Jinka town, Naciones, Ethiopia, Africa

Rapid population growth inhibits sustainable development in low-resource settings especially. High fertility is positively correlated with extreme poverty—many of the fastest growing countries are also the poorest. Both conditions increase vulnerability to stresses associated with climate change.

Crowded Streets of Mumbai

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Solutions Through Reproductive Health Info Brief

Ensuring access to quality, comprehensive reproductive health care is an essential component of sustainable development initiatives worldwide. This info brief takes an in-depth look into the ways in which voluntary family planning services aid development, support women’s empowerment, and increase climate resilience at the individual, community, national, and global levels.

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Solutions Through Reproductive Health Slide Deck

This slide deck investigates the role of increased access to voluntary family planning services in global efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, facilitate sustainable development, and increase health outcomes for women and their families.

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Recommended Readings

Browse literature on family planning interventions for sustainable development, climate mitigation and adaptation, women’s empowerment, and state stability. This resource includes academic sources, reports from NGOs and international organizations, and relevant news articles.

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