The 2012 Family Planning Summit in London launched a global movement to address unmet need for family planning and strengthen services. Today, the FP2020 initiative, a global partnership, continues to frame the discussions and move toward tangible results as governments, civil society, and technical institutions all work to reduce barriers and bring family planning to an additional 120 million women and girls in the poorest countries by 2020.

One challenge for service providers is to better understand why women are not using family planning, especially when they state that they would like to postpone their next birth, or not have any more children, but are not using any type of contraception. These women have an unmet need for family planning. Unmet need reflects a complex range of processes that make up a woman’s set of choices and challenges over her reproductive life. Shifts in fertility preferences often occur in response to changing life circumstances such as having a child, entering a serious relationship, and changes in household finances. The complexity of the issue underscores two important points: The transitional nature of demand for family planning can pose serious challenges for women and their partners’ ability to control their reproductive lives; and understanding these transitions enhances our ability to better meet couples’ contraceptive needs.

PRB had been unpacking the complexity of unmet need in a way that provides context for the overall goals of the global movement, broadens the discourse, and brings new perspectives to traditional thinking. Specific activities under this project, funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, include analyzing Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data to understand the complex nature of unmet need and the differences between cross-sectional versus longitudinal measurements, developing advocacy tools including a multimedia presentation and materials, and disseminating products globally.

To date, PRB has completed an unmet need data analysis that sheds light on the “revolving door” nature of unmet need and the importance of addressing women’s and men’s need at different stages of their reproductive lives. Many of the DHS surveys include a “contraceptive calendar,” which records a woman’s monthly reproductive health history over five years. These calendars provide a largely untapped resource to investigate longitudinal measures of unmet need over the five-year period. Focusing on married women in 13 developing countries, the analysis revealed two important outcomes:

  • Measuring unmet need across a five-year period revealed a significantly greater number of women who experienced unmet need in selected countries than previously reported using the cross-sectional (single point in time) measurement.
  • And second, the analysis showed that many women experienced multiple episodes of unmet need in the five-year period preceding the survey.

For additional information on the DHS analyses, see the PRB research brief “Unmet Need for Family Planning: What Can We Learn From the DHS Five-Year Contraceptive Calendar Data?”

Advocacy tools currently available include:

    • An infographic—“Faces of Unmet Need”—that presents a snapshot of the magnitude of unmet need around the world and is accompanied by the article” Faces of Unmet Need for Family Planning.”
    • A global fact sheet—“Unmet Need for Family Planning”—that describes the reasons unmet need varies by region and the characteristics of women with unmet need.
    • Five country-specific fact sheets—”Reproductive Transitions: Unmet Need for Family Planning”—that depict the current situation of unmet need in each country, why women who say they want to postpone their next birth, or not have any more children, are not using contraception, and the policy and program implications of the evidence.
    • Fiche d’information spécifique au pays (en français):