International Planned Parenthood Federation: Still Sexy at 60

International Planned Parenthood Federation: Still Sexy at 60
(International Planned Parenthood Federation)

On November 29, 1952, a handful of women set out to create a different kind of world. These women—from eight family planning organizations representing the Netherlands, Hong Kong, India, Singapore, West Germany, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States—believed that empowering women to control their own bodies was essential to creating healthy families and sustainable communities. This courageous group of advocates was determined to work within countries and cultures to accomplish this goal. From this bold vision, the International Planned Parenthood Federation was born.

When IPPF first began distributing information about contraception, advocates were met with opposition. It’s hard to imagine a time when advocates of family planning could be imprisoned for their actions, but that’s precisely what happened 60 years ago, and in some places still happens today.  Margaret Sanger, who founded the birth control movement in the U.S., was jailed for her conviction that every woman has the right to decide when and whether to have children.

But Sanger and her allies persevered, and today IPPF is one of the largest family planning organizations in the world. It works with 152 local partners in 172 countries to provide quality sexual and reproductive health services (The Planned Parenthood Federation of America is the U.S. partner). Last year, IPPF provided nearly 90 million sexual and reproductive health service visits worldwide and contributed to 116 policy and legislative changes in support or defense of sexual and reproductive rights.

In spite of IPPF’s successes, the battle for bodily autonomy as a human right continues. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that 222 million women of childbearing age in developing countries have an unmet need for contraception. According to the World Health Organization, 95 percent of abortions in Latin America and half of all performed around the world are done in unsafe conditions. These startling statistics reflect the reality of millions of vulnerable women around the globe. It also reflects the continued need for international advocacy in support of sexual and reproductive health and rights.

As 2013 begins, advocates are gearing up for another year of standing their ground and pushing governments toward further gains. Fluctuating priorities in global health funding, an ever-present HIV epidemic and a new generation of youth are all affecting the current landscape of sexual and reproductive health and rights.

“At this time of global uncertainty, there is no more important investment to be made [than family planning],” said IPPF Director-General Tewodros Melesse. “Only when people are healthy and empowered can they contribute to building strong communities and vibrant nations. Now, we must follow through. I am confident that we can, and we will, because world development and the lives of millions depend upon it.”


Mandy Van Deven is a writer, advocate, and online media strategist. Her work exploring contemporary feminisms, global activism, and sexuality has been published in The Guardian, Salon, GlobalPost, AlterNet, and Marie Claire.