I often reflect on the tremendous organising energy that came from the 1994 clarion call “women’s rights are human rights”. Yet despite more than 20 years of progressive international commitments for gender equality, in the last five years, the space for civil society engaged in gender equality and women’s empowerment has been shrinking. This diminishing space has been most profound for those civil society organisations (CSOs) working to secure the most basic right of all – control of our own bodies and destinies.
Every woman, adolescent, and girl, has the right to decide whether, with whom, and at what moment to have children. We have the right to choose whether and whom to marry. This is the central pre-condition to reduce unintended pregnancies, end child marriage, keep girls in school and expand opportunities for young women, not just to survive but to thrive. This is the corner stone for gender equality, women’s empowerment and Planet 50:50.
It is often said that change takes a long time, but change can also be sudden, severe, and profound: on 23 January, just two days after ½ million women and men marched on Washington in support of Women’s rights, and after only three days in office, US President Donald Trump reinstated and expanded the Mexico City policy, also referred to as a global gag rule (GGR).
The GGR stops any and all US government funds to international organisations that provide abortion counselling, referrals or services or education on reproductive choices. The US is the biggest funder of reproductive health across the globe, and this backtrack on women’s rights will lead to an immediate loss of USD$575 million annually in funding, and threatens up to USD$9.5 billion as it extends to other US global health programs such as those working on Zika virus, HIV, etc. It is predicted that the cut will lead to an alarming increase of 4.8 million unintended pregnancies, 1.7 million unsafe abortions, and 20,000 maternal deaths annually. The global gag rule has used women’s reproductive rights as a bargaining chip in US politics for years, and is put in place with each Republican administration and removed with each Democratic one. The Trump administration, however, has expanded the GGR’s reach to all global health funding, with the impact hitting almost exclusively civil society organisations and the greatest consequences falling upon the most marginalised women in poor countries. MORE