09/28/2012 10:12 am ET Updated Nov 28, 2012

From Farms to Family Planning: Investing in Women on World Contraception Day

Today is World Contraception Day. I am celebrating by visiting a cassava farm in Tanzania.

It might seem like a strange way to observe the day, except for this fact: the women who do the majority of the labor on small family farms in developing countries are often the very same women who are asking for, but not getting access to, contraceptives. They put family planning and agricultural productivity in the same category: both are critical to raising healthy and productive families.

Their goal isn't to have access to a range of contraceptive methods. Nor is it to be experts on soil health. Their goal is to make sure their children can fulfill their potential, and they need both the power to determine whether and when to have children and the ability to grow enough food to nourish them.

I have spent most of the last year advocating for women in the world's poorest countries to have greater access to contraceptives. I co-hosted the London Summit on Family Planning this summer to help rally the world around the goal of giving 120 million additional women and girls access to contraceptives by 2020. I felt compelled to focus on this issue because as I travel and talk to women in developing countries, they tell me over and over again that they want and need to be empowered to plan their families so that they and their children can be healthier and so that their families and communities can be more successful.

For many reasons, this issue hasn't been a priority in development for years, and I decided that listening to women meant trying to put family planning back at the top of the global health agenda. World Contraception Day provides an opportunity for me to look back on what we've accomplished so far. Many donor countries, private companies and, most importantly, developing countries came forward at the Summit to make significant commitments to support women's access to family planning in the world's poorest countries. I also believe that by shining a light on the issue, we helped more women be heard.

World Contraception Day also reminds me to keep looking forward. How do we convert the commitments made at the Summit into tangible results for families? How do we keep women at the heart of the global health and development conversation? And how do we make it clear that contraceptives are part of a complex puzzle -- that they connect to other key development priorities like agriculture and child health?

I urge you to help answer these questions by joining the conversation around our special blog series (with Women Deliver) featuring youth perspectives on contraceptives. And while you're at it, learn more about our agriculture work here, and join the conversation about that, too. Because it's really one and the same conversation about better lives for people in the poorest countries.