Family Planning Advocacy Toolkit.

Advocacy can be defined in many ways. The authors of Repositioning Family Planning: Guidelines for Advocacy Action define advocacy as “a set of actions undertaken by a group of committed individuals or organizations to introduce, change or obtain support for specific policies, programs, legislation, issues and causes.”  Effective advocacy proposes specific, actionable solutions and is strategic, targeted, well designed and firmly supported by reliable, relevant, recent data.

The Family Planning Advocacy Toolkit provides advocates at all levels, including international, national and community leaders, with the information and tools they need to make the case for improved access to voluntary family planning. The Toolkit contains a carefully selected collection of state-of-the-art resources for effective family planning advocacy. Use the site map or the navigation menu on the right side of the page to browse resources by topic. For more information about the Toolkit and how to use it, please visit the About page.

Revitalizing Family Planning: The Crucial Role of Advocacy

A renewed focus on expanding access to family planning has come about in response to the fact that global use of modern contraceptive methods has risen by only 3 percentage points over the past two decades, from 54 percent in 1990 to 57 percent in 2012. Unmet need for family planning remains unacceptably high: in a 2012 report, UNFPA and the Guttmacher Institute estimated that 222 million women want to avoid pregnancy but lack access to family planning services. This unmet need is fueled partly by both a growing population and a shortage of family planning services. Family planning contributes to all of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially MDG 5–Reduce maternal mortality. Yet progress in meeting MDG 5 lags markedly behind.

This renewed focus on family planning was evident at the 2012 London Summit for Family Planning, which brought together high-level donors who pledged to improve access to family planning services. Advocacy is essential to reaching the resulting Family Planning 2020 goal of delivering contraceptives, information and services to a total of 380 million women of reproductive age by the year 2020. Access to voluntary family planning for an additional 120 million women worldwide could cumulatively prevent 100 million unintended pregnancies, 3 million infant deaths and 200,000 pregnancy- and childbirth-related deaths.

Multimedia tools can be very effective in delivering key advocacy messages. In this short video, world leaders and global advocates discuss why family planning matters on a personal, community, national and global level. The video also features clips of speeches given at the London Summit.

If you wish to suggest a resource for inclusion in the Family Planning Advocacy Toolkit or to share your experience advocating for family planning, please email us at or visit our feedback form.



5 Ways to Make It Easier for Men to Channel Empathy and Compassion.

Boys and men commit the vast majority of violent acts, from domestic violence to murder. We’ve got to get at the root causes

The men are gone.

That’s what I realize on the last class of the  Cultivating Compassion Training (CCT) course at Stanford University. We’ve spent  nine weeks strengthening our attention, building awareness of our bodies, and learning to confront pain in ourselves and in others—and throughout the course, male students were dropping out like 12th-seeded teams in the NCAA basketball tournament.

This gender imbalance was not unique to Stanford’s CCT. Two-thirds of students at the  Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, California, are female, according to teacher Gil Fronsdal, an ordained Soto Zen priest who was also a Theravada monk in Burma. Elad Levinson, the director of programs at  Spirit Rock Mediation Center, says, “The sociodemographic of Spirit Rock consists of primarily women.”

All of these programs integrate  mindfulness meditation—the practice of focusing attention on our thoughts and feelings without judging them. That might not sound like much, but study after study finds that practicing mindfulness can bring a host of physical, psychological, and social benefits. More recently, evaluations of programs like CCT are finding that mindfulness is a very effective way to  cultivate compassionate intentions and behaviors.

Is that something that boys and men need? “Men tell you what is on their minds, but not what is in their heart,” says Levinson, who has 40 years of psychotherapy and 20 years of leading men’s groups under his belt. Perhaps not coincidentally, boys and men commit the  vast majority of violent acts, from  domestic violence to murder. Many struggle with expressing  empathy and compassion.

The problem does not seem to center on mindfulness. Men practice high levels of mindfulness in a variety of arenas in our society. At  military boot camps and police academies, men learn to control their breathing and focus on a target before firing a weapon. Sports are a great training ground for mindfulness: Basketball players are taught to clear their mind by going through a routine when shooting a free throw. Being in “the zone” is active meditation in its highest form.

Notice, however, that in all of these mindfulness practices, compassion is removed from the equation. These boys and men are being trained for win-or-lose competition. “It has been historically dangerous for a man to be vulnerable,” says Elad Levinson, who suggests that men’s resistance to explore interior emotions like compassion is the result of hundreds of years of conditioning.

While some argue that this is the result of a biological predisposition, contemporary research inneuroplasticity, by scientists like Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, finds that even short-term compassion meditation training (30 minutes a day for eight weeks) alters the brain activity in regions associated with positive emotional skills like empathy. That is true for both men and women. As Davidson says, “Compassion is indeed an emotional skill that can be trained.”

We understand the benefits. The need is there. But how do we get men to participate in mindfulness and compassion training? Here are five ways to plant the seeds of compassion in boys—and cultivate its growth in men.

1. Use pop culture to teach mindfulness to boys

When my wife and I tried to teach our sons how to meditate, they immediately sat down “crisscrossed apple-sauce” and closed their eyes. “What are you thinking about?” I asked my five year old. “Inner peace,” he replied.

It turns out that he learned this technique from Po in the movie Kung Fu Panda. I wasn’t surprised: One of the reasons I was attracted to meditation at an early age stems from my love of the Japanese anime Ikkyu-san, based on the historical Zen Buddhist monk.

“If every eight year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation,” says the Dalai Lama. Some might argue with that point, but given research showing how mindfulness meditation leads to greater compassion, perhaps portrayals of meditation in action belong in the Netflix queues of young children.

Shows like Kung Fu Panda and Avatar: The Last Airbender feature characters that gain power—as well as peace of mind—through meditation. The Jedi Knights of Star Wars consistently preach mindfulness to each other, specifically as a way to foster compassion and restraint.

Parents can watch these hugely popular movies and shows with their kids and discuss the real-world roots of these practices.

2. Give boys role models of mindfulness and compassion

I meditate every day. Sometimes I meditate in my sons’ bedroom, which gives them a sense of security. “Daddy, will you ‘medtate’ in our room, please?” is a common bedtime request of my three year old.

Our sons also practice Kristen Neff’s self-compassion techniques daily. Whenever they say, “thank you,” they put their hands on their hearts and bow deeply. My wife and I want them to connect with what Bruce Lee calls the “emotional content” of their actions. Some parents at our son’s kindergarten have noticed this pose of gratitude and taught their children the gesture.


Although these actions seem trivial, research in neuroplasticity has shown how the consistent daily practice of any activity alters the brain structure of the practitioner. This is a matter of building habits—ones that will hopefully last a lifetime.

3. Start with boys in school 

In a world where bullying, school shootings, and sexual violence threaten all our children, isn’t it about time that compassion training became part of the curriculum of every school?


The Oakland-based Mindful Schools program takes training straight to the kids. Co-founder and co-director Megan Cowan has shared a story about how a mindfulness training she led in an inner-city school engendered compassion in the students for victims during a lockdown.

Another program in Oakland, the Mind Body Awareness Project (MBA), “work in juvenile halls, detention camps, and at-risk schools in California, serving young people with histories of violence, substance abuse, and deep trauma,” as Congressman Tim Ryan writes in “Toward a More Mindful Nation.”

These programs are springing up all around the country, as Jill Suttie describes in “Mindful Kids, Peaceful Schools.” There’s also Stressed Teens in Oakland, BREATHE in Pennsylvania, the Holistic Life Foundation in Baltimore, InnerKids in Los Angeles, the Impact Foundation in Colorado, and the Lineage Project in New York City. Many of these programs teach mindfulness to at-risk and incarcerated teenagers.

Scientific evaluations of many of these programs are finding that they boost academic achievement and reduce behavioral problems. As Congresman Ryan writes:

These people and many others all over America and the world are changing the way we approach chronic poverty and disconnection. These programs reveal to our children that a negative and dangerous life is not their only option. With mindfulness skills they see that they have choices and the wherewithal to overcome the adversity in their lives. As these programs grow and lead to deep, systemic change, our country will be a safer and healthier place because of it.

4. Meet men where they are 

Rather than try to get a few good men to attend compassion training, why don’t we find areas where men are a captive audience, and teach compassion there?

Mindfulness meditation has already been incorporated into the US military’s Marine Corps. At the Quantico, Virginia base, soldiers are offered an eight-week mindfulness course in order to better deal with anxiety, stress, depression, and insomnia. “I can’t think of any aspect of my life that it hasn’t helped me with,” reports Major Jeff Davis.

Mindfulness programs are also working in prisons. The Prison-Ashram project, started in 1975 by Bo and Sita Lozoff with Ram Dass, has lead thousands of meditation workshops in more than 500 prisons. They also distribute free books and audio CDs to any inmate who requests them. Bo Lozoff’s book, We’re All Doing Time, which covers yoga, pranayama, and Tonglen meditation, has become “the convict’s Bible.” Bo, who passed away in late 2012, claims that every inmate in prison has one thing in common: “A lack of compassion.”

“Change really can happen,” says Sita Lozoff, reflecting on three decades of teaching mindfulness practices to prison inmates. “You become more peaceful.” When asked about how to get more men who are not incarcerated to practice mindfulness and compassion training, Sita simply stated, “Change the role models to make compassion something attractive.”

“Prisoners are such great role models for the rest of us,” says Jenny Phillips, director of the Dhamma Brothers, a documentary about the beneficial effects of Vipassana meditation practices administered in an overcrowded, understaffed, maximum-security prison for men outside of Birmingham, Alabama. “The Dhamma Brothers suggests the possibility of freedom from that which imprisons us all,” writes Phillips in her director’s statement.

Phillips plans to release free teaching curriculum for schools to teach The Dhamma Brothers. The curriculum includes not only guides to teach and discuss the film and its companion book, but also experiential exercises on mindfulness, meditation, and cultivating loving-kindness.

Catching boys in the home, children at school, kids in front of the flat screen, and adults in institutions might just start a revolution that will end the gender imbalance of compassion.

5. Make compassion training manlier 

Finally, we might try to make mindfulness and compassion training more attractive to men.

Part of the struggle is to simply encourage men to lead other men into mindfulness. “Men tend to go deeper when they are not with women,” claims Elad Levinson. Gil Fronsdal notes that when he taught a meditation retreat without a female co-teacher, his gender ratio sometimes reached 50-50. So maybe having male teachers leading a class for men-only would help.

We can use examples of mindfulness in military, sports training, and popular culture in order to illustrate the concepts and build credibility among men. Levinson argues that compassion trainings need to be “culturally relevant, delivered by credible people who can relate to men, and learning accessible.”

Self-Compassion pioneer Kristen Neff tells a story about how Chris Germer, who co-developed Neff’s self-compassion workshop with her, teaches a male version of her active self-soothing technique. While Neff gently puts her hands over her heart as an example of self-soothing, Chris Germer adapts the hip-hop gesture of thumping a fist on one’s chest over the heart.

The trouble, of course, is that this type of gesture doesn’t appeal to all men—and catering to male culture can be gimmicky or even part of the problem, if taken to extremes. We are just starting the discussion about how to involve men in mindfulness and compassion training, and we are still struggling to discover a language of the mind and the body that can lead them toward mindfulness.

How would you cultivate compassion in men?


Doctors Perform Thousands of Unnecessary Surgeries: Are You Getting One of Them?


Story at-a-glance

  • According to a USA Today review of government records and medical databases, tens of thousands of patients undergo unnecessary surgery each and every year
  • Among the most commonly performed unnecessary surgeries are cardiac angioplasties, pacemakers, back surgery, knee and hip surgeries, hysterectomy and Cesarean sections
  • Diagnostic errors are also problematic and may account for the permanent injury or death of up to 160,000 US patients each year
  • If you’re having an elective medical procedure done always get a second opinion—and possibly a third and fourth
  • If your physician tells you that you need surgery, unless it is an emergency, I would strongly recommend to get a second opinion first.
  • In many cases, you may find that you don’t need surgery after all, saving not only a considerable amount of money but also avoiding the potentially deadly risks that any surgery carries.
  • In fact, according to a new USA Today review of government records and medical databases, tens of thousands of patients undergo unnecessary surgery each and every year!1 And according to some experts, that number may actually be in themillions. According to USA Today:
  • “’It’s a very serious issue, (and) there really hasn’t been a movement to address it,’ says Lucian Leape, a former surgeon and professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. Leape, a renowned patient safety expert…
  • He began studying unnecessary surgery after a 1974 congressional report estimated that there were 2.4 million cases a year, killing nearly 12,000 patients. Leape’s take today? “Things haven’t changed very much.’”
  • There are multiple reasons why unnecessary surgeries take place. In some cases they’re the result of criminal acts, in which surgeons intentionally prey on patients, performing surgeries even though they know they are not medically justified.
  • USA Today cited the case of Michael Rosin, a dermatologist who was sentenced to 22 years in prison and fines of more than $7 million for intentionally misdiagnosing his patients with skin cancer so he could perform surgeries to remove benign lesions.
  • Far more often, however, are the physicians who perform unnecessary surgeries out of incompetence or a lack of training in less-invasive alternatives. Many health care providers may believe that surgery is the only answer, even when the success rates are minimal and better non-surgical treatment options exist.
  • Then there are those providers who perform the surgery simply because the profit will increase their income, and they can justify them as medically ‘necessary.’ USA Today reported:2
  • “’I think there are a very small percent of doctors who are crooked, maybe 1 or 2%,’ says John Santa, a physician and former health system administrator who became director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center in 2008.
  • ‘I think there’s a higher percentage who are not well trained or not competent’ to determine when surgery is necessary, Santa says. ‘Then you have a big group who are more businessmen than medical professionals — doctors who look at those gray cases and say, ‘Well, I have enough here to justify surgery, so I’m going to do it.””
  • Personally, I think USA Today is being very kind in their low-ball estimate of 1-2%. Those numbers seem quite low and from my experience I suspect it is significantly higher.
  • It’s worth getting a second opinion before you have virtually any non-emergency surgery. However, if you’re scheduled for one of the following procedures, it becomes even more imperative to seek another expert’s opinion, as these surgeries carry a high risk of being done without medical necessity.3
  • Yes I realize there is a cost and significant hassle factor, but I strongly encourage to do your due diligence. The extra time and resources you invest in confirming the necessity of the surgery could have a major impact on your ability to enjoy the rest of your life.
  • 1. Cardiac Angioplasty, Stents
  • This invasive procedure involves inflating a thin balloon in a narrowed artery to crush plaque deposits; a stent (a wire mesh tube) is often then left behind to keep the vessel open. When used during a heart attack, an angioplasty can quickly open a blocked artery to lessen the damage to your heart, and when used in this way can be lifesaving.
  • However, oftentimes heart disease patients receive angioplasties even though they have not had a heart attack — a decision that goes against the latest medical guidelines. One 2011 study found that 12 percent of all angioplasty procedures (in cases that did not involve an acute heart attack) were not medically necessary.4 Separate research also revealed that angioplasty offers no benefit compared to less invasive treatment of heart disease.5
  • 2. Cardiac Pacemakers
  • Pacemakers are used to correct heartbeat irregularities, but research shows that more than 22 percent of these implants may be unnecessary.6
  • 3. Spinal Fusion Back Surgery
  • If you have low back pain and see different specialists you will get different tests: rheumatologists will order blood tests, neurologists will order nerve impulse tests, and surgeons will order MRIs and CT scans. But no matter what tests you get, you’ll probably end up with a spinal fusion because it’s one of the “more lucrative procedures in medicine,” author Shannon Brownlee says – even though the best success rate for spinal fusions is only 25 percent!
  • According to one review, more than 17 percent of patients told they needed spinal surgery actually showed no abnormal neurological or radiographic findings that would require surgery.7
  • 4. Hysterectomy
  • The surgical removal of the uterus may be recommended inappropriately in 70 percent of cases, often because of a lack of adequate diagnostic evaluation and failure to try alternative treatments before the surgery.8 Some surgeons also remove healthy ovaries during hysterectomy as a ‘precaution,’ sometimes without the patient providing their consent or being informed as to the severe adverse effects the ovariectomy may produce on their remaining quality of life.
  • 5. Knee and Hip Replacement, and Arthroscopic Knee Surgery
  • Patients who were informed about joint replacements and alternative treatments had 26 percent fewer hip replacements and 38 percent fewer knee replacements than those who did not.9 Arthroscopic knee surgery for osteoarthritis is also one of the most unnecessary surgeries performed today, as it works no better than a placebo surgery.
  • Proof of this is a double-blind placebo-controlled multi-center (including Harvard’s Mass General Hospital) study published in one of the most well-respected medical journals on the planet, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) over 10 years ago.10
  • Recent research has also shown arthroscopic knee surgery works no better than placebo surgery, and when comparing treatments for knee pain, physical therapy was found to be just as effective as surgery, but at significantly reduced cost and risk.11 And yet another study showed exercise is just as effective as surgery for people with chronic pain in the front part of their knee, known as chronic patellofemoral syndrome (PFPS), which is also frequently treated unnecessarily with arthroscopic surgery.12
  • 6. Cesarean Section
  • Cesarean delivery is the most commonly performed surgical procedure in the US and rates are increasing. But research shows rates vary 10-fold among hospitals, even among low-risk pregnancies,13 suggesting that practice patterns, not necessity, are driving these high surgery rates.
  • According to the World Health Organization, no country is justified in having a cesarean rate greater than 10 percent to 15 percent. The US rate, at nearly 32 percent, is the highest rate ever reported in the US and is higher than in most other developed countries.
  • Unnecessary surgeries are only one problem facing the conventional medical system. Medical errors are also alarmingly common, and diagnosis errors, in particular, appear to be occurring at very high rates. Researchers recently wrote in BMJ Quality & Safety:14
  • “Among malpractice claims, diagnostic errors appear to be the most common, most costly and most dangerous of medical mistakes. We found roughly equal numbers of lethal and non-lethal errors in our analysis, suggesting that the public health burden of diagnostic errors could be twice that previously estimated.”
  • The study involved more than 350,000 malpractice claims, of which nearly 29 percent involved a missed, wrong or delayed diagnosis. Such errors may account for the permanent injury or death of up to 160,000 patients each year, the study found, with researchers noting that “it is probably a lot higher than that.”15 Case in point, when all medical errors, not just diagnosis errors, are taken into account, the rate of medical harm occurring in the US is estimated to be over 40,000 harmful and/or lethal errors each and EVERY day.16
  • Part of the problem is that hospitals and providers have little incentive to change, as the more surgeries performed, the more money they make. And if complications are involved, so much the better from a financial perspective.
  • One revealing JAMA study found that major surgical complications actually earn hospitals more money on privately insured or Medicare-covered patients.17 This isn’t exactly shocking, of course, since the more complications suffered, the longer the hospital stay and the more associated medications, tests and procedures that will be ordered. Hospitals are a business, after all, and the more “services” used by any one patient, the more money they make.
  • Where money is concerned, a hospital therefore has no incentive to reduce surgical errors and other medical mishaps, which may actually be a key moneymaker for them. And, as the Health Business Blog astutely reported,18 unlike most businesses, which suffer financially when mistakes occur, hospitals get to charge you even more money to treat you for avoidable complications or mistakes they make. Decreasing surgical complications may therefore have adverse financial consequences for many hospitals, the researchers concluded, and the same goes for reducing unnecessary surgery rates, as well.
  • My primary suggestion is to avoid hospitals and surgeries unless it’s an absolute emergency and you need life-saving medical attention. If you’re going to have an elective medical procedure, always get a second opinion—and possibly a third and fourth.
  • The other KEY is to be proactive and start pursuing a healthy lifestyle today so you don’t become a victim of an unnecessary medical procedure. I have compiled my best tips in a customized 100-page nutrition plan to help you take control of your health. It is customized to three different levels and you can start at any level, but be sure and read from the beginning, as reviewing the basics is the best way to reinforce healthy patterns.
  • As much as possible, be proactive in using a healthy lifestyle to support and protect your health and, if illness does occur, use natural methods that will allow your body to heal itself without the need for unnecessary surgery, drugs or other invasive medical procedures.

·         Many Doctors ‘Lack the Competence’ to Know When a Surgery Isn’t Necessary

·         Six Common Surgeries That Are Often Unnecessary

·         Diagnostic Errors Permanently Injure or Kill Up to 160,000 Americans a Year

·         Hospitals Profit Off of Surgical Errors and Medical Mishaps

·         It’s Your Body: Take Control of Your Health