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Global powers need to stand up for sexual and reproductive health


The current health and economic crisis has taken a severe toll on gender equality and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) across the world, and is threatening SRHR commitments at a time when funding is critical.

The 2021 Donors Delivering for SRHR report, which analyses OECD data from 2019, spotlights inconsistencies in aid spending on SRHR across OECD and DAC countries, with some of the biggest donors registering the largest decreases in SRHR funding. These trends, which predate the COVID-19 pandemic are therefore all the more concerning, and international donors must step up their support.

Larger donors in the European Union are also not pulling their weight. Ranking EU donors’ SRHR disbursements as a percentage of their overall development aid, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Sweden performed most highly – placing significantly above Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. Europe is responsible for over $112 billion in overall development aid, but SRHR, FP, and RMNCH have only received small fractions of that funding.

Meanwhile, the UK – whose disbursements to Family Planning and SRHR have grown in recent years – has performed a U-turn in 2021, cutting its overall development aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5%. The expected contribution of $210 million to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Supplies Partnership, which delivers modern contraceptives and life-saving maternal health services to adolescents and women, now will be reduced to around $31 million. According to UNPFA, with that withdrawn $178 million, the UNFPA Supplies Partnership would have helped prevent around 250,000 maternal and child deaths, 14.6 million unintended pregnancies, and 4.3 million unsafe abortions.

The threat to global SRHR not only stems from aid cuts, but from increased contestation of SRHR, gender equality, and women and girls’ rights. Annual anti-gender spending in Europe has increased fourfold since 2009, amounting to $96 million in 2018. This dramatic rise in funding to anti-gender and discriminatory advocacy represents a threat to SRHR worldwide – for these challenges to be fended off, more needs to be done by leading donors in terms of SRHR aid.

There is a pressing need for global alignment on SRHR funding. Research shows that only 55% of women worldwide are fully empowered to make choices about health care, contraception, and consent. 29% of countries still do not guarantee access to overall maternity care, and just 56% have laws and policies supporting comprehensive sexuality education. Yet certain major donors’ political and financial commitment to SHRH is waning – and they are being shown up by some smaller countries. 

Millions of individuals, especially women and girls still lack access to essential sexual and reproductive health care services. Meaningful progress on SRHR requires both political and financial commitments. Leading powers must pull their weight to ensure women and girls have access to essential sexual health services, and to deliver equitable and enduring gains for all.


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