Right to family planning and safe abortion still not self-evident for all
Finland takes part in the SheDecides movement that aims to raise funding for healthcare services for women and girls.
Soon after taking office US President Donald Trump reinstated the so-called Mexico City Policy (MCP), or Global Gag Rule. It is a policy that blocks US funds to any overseas NGO providing women access to safe abortion or just giving them information about reproductive health or family planning.
The US administration has subsequently expanded this policy to apply to all international healthcare aid. It has withdrawn funding from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), for example. Development cooperation funding provided by the United States has an enormous significance outside the country, since the US is globally one of the largest donors of development aid. This new expansion of the MCP considerably weakens the efficiency of development aid: the cuts imposed on family planning, healthcare services and women’s access to safe abortion will dramatically impair the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls and increase unsafe abortions and maternal deaths and injuries caused by them.
The SheDecides movement, a collaboration of governments, NGOs and individuals, was founded as a reaction against the MCP and the cuts it imposes on the healthcare services women sorely need. SheDecides aims to find ways to remedy the harm created by the US aid cuts on healthcare for women and girls and to raise political support for their rights.
SheDecides meeting demanded action
Seven months after the first SheDecides conference, the Champions of the movement met during the opening week of the UN General Assembly in New York in an event hosted by Finland.
The most important task of SheDecides is to advocate the rights of women and girls on a global scale. The movement has grown fast, and it has wide political support. It has already nearly 30,000 friends who have signed the movement’s manifesto online (read more at www.shedecides.com). The amount of funding pledged within the movement has doubled since March. SheDecides does not collect funding; instead it tries to influence donors’ funding decisions and redirect funding to organisations losing support because the US reinstated the MCP.
Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Kai Mykkänen co-hosted the meeting with South Africa’s Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi and Director Victoria Fuentes from Mexfam, a Mexican family planning organisation.
Minister Motsoaledi reminded that although the movement’s name suggests that it advocates the rights of women and girls, its goals to improve healthcare services will also help men and society as a whole through fewer cases of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.
In the general debate, there was a fairly heated discussion about how much the SheDecides movement should highlight difficult themes, such as abortion and other sexual rights, when it tries to influence countries that already restrict women’s access to family planning and to sexual and reproductive health and counselling.
The Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo pointed out that SheDecides should not be against anyone; instead it should defend the health of women and girls. He said that talking too strongly about abortion could in some situations drive a wedge between the opponents and supporters of the movement.
Chief Executive Officer Kate Hampton from Children’s Investment Fund Foundation was convinced that although globally there have been setbacks in women’s rights because of the MCP for example, the claims for the right of women and girls to do what they choose with their bodies will in the end prevail. She also stressed that the opportunity and right to good sexual and reproductive health benefit all and improve the lives of all people.
The meeting discussed the movement’s actions and plans so far and outlined possible actions for the future. Where the movement could have the most impact, and how to improve synergies. How the Champions of the movement could try to promote the health and rights of women and girls both by influencing existing harmful legislation and by changing the attitudes of those who are creating legislation that restricts women’s right to self-determination.
Gisela Blumenthal works as a Senior Adviser in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs Henri Salonen works as a Trainee in the Permanent Mission of Finland to the UN