The Mystery of the Disappearing UNFPA Funds

Anika Rahman

Every year Congress releases funds for crucial women's health care programs globally. Every year President Bush withholds those funds. Americans for UNFPA asks: what will the next president do to help prevent the deaths of thousands of women worldwide?

You are hard pressed to find an American who thinks 529,000 women dying each year from preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth is not a problem worth solving. Ask around and you'll find that while they may be overwhelmed, Americans do care that 14,000 people are newly infected every day with HIV. In fact, you can't find too many people in this country who object to widespread access to contraception and family planning for women in low-income countries as a way to help them escape poverty.

So it follows that every year, Congress allocates a U.S. contribution to UNFPA, essentially the United Nations women's health agency. But every year, the President withholds the money.

With all the public support for global women's health, you'd think a small annual donation ($34-50 million) for an organization that works to solve these problems would be generally supported by Americans. And it would be if Americans had ever heard of UNFPA. But most of them haven't. It's an agency with an unclear name (the United Nations Population Fund) and a difficult acronym under the auspices of the UN, which Americans have conflicted feelings about.

The Bush Administration uses that lack of knowledge to their benefit because if Americans knew our government withheld a contribution to an organization that provides women's health care and promotes the rights of women around the world, they'd be outraged.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

This week I'm in Mongolia visiting Dr. Dorj Munkhuu, who is one of three women Americans for UNFPA will be honoring in October. Dr. Munkhuu is an amazing force for the women of her country, particularly women from the nomadic herder families who have extremely limited access to health care. Mobile clinics in Mongolia are an absolute necessity in a country where the maternal mortality rate in rural areas is 380 per 100,000 live births verses 93 per 100,000 in the urban areas. (In the U.S. the overall rate is 45 per 100,000).

Dr. Munkhuu's work is an example of the kinds of initiatives that the U.S. does not help fund when the Administration withholds funds to UNFPA. She and women like her have been working for change within their communities for decades and whether the U.S. helps or not is dependent on the political winds and the person who wins our Presidential elections.

And so, we have a vested interest in our next President understanding these issues enough to know that you cannot address women's health or human rights in a vacuum, that they almost always develop alongside one another and that such change must come largely from within a society. You can't expect, for example, to reduce maternal mortality without elevating the value of women in a society when there is the opinion that it is easier and cheaper to get a new wife than to save the one who is hemorrhaging.

And while the United States might be able to directly help a country like, say, Mexico build a better health care system, our assistance might not be so welcome in a place like Iran, for example. But I think most Americans would agree that all women deserve health care and human rights, regardless of whether their present government is allied with the U.S. or not.

What we need is a serious discussion of the causes and consequences of women's health — no nation in the world can develop its economy (let alone democracy) while it excludes women from economic and political participation — and a sustained, long-term commitment from our leaders to assist the international programs that are already working.

The Pro-Lie Movement Targets Hillary

Cristina Page

The "Susan B. Anthony List" claims Clinton, as Obama's Secretary of State, will "promote abortion" around the world, because of her support for UNFPA.

One woman is a victim of daily
defamation from the right: Susan B. Anthony. The name and image of the
iconic suffragist have been used to promote the anti-woman, anti-choice
campaigns of a group that calls itself the "Susan B. Anthony List."
Clearly, they hope that co-opting the name of the famous woman’s rights
leader will camouflage their anti-woman agenda. It should then come as
no surprise that the same group is now maligning and defaming (though
not yet co-opting) the name of another woman’s rights leader, Hillary
Clinton.

The "Susan B. Anthony List" claims Clinton, as Obama’s Secretary of
State, will "promote abortion" around the world. According to their November 30 press release,
"Clinton will join Obama in promoting taxpayer funding of international
abortions through a revocation of the Mexico City Policy and restoring
funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
The UNFPA has been implicated in supporting China’s coercive one-child
family planning policy that involves forced abortions and
sterilizations."

Defamation is a tool of the anti-choice establishment. Its campaign against UNFPA
was one of its most sinister. It was, in effect, a campaign against the
most desperate women, babies and families of the world.
Anti-contraception groups, like the "Susan B. Anthony List," with the
help of the all-too-willing President Bush managed to freeze $161
million of U.S. funds to UNFPA. This "pro-life" victory resulted in
millions of infant deaths, over a hundred thousand mothers dying during
childbirth, as well as millions more unintended pregnancies and
abortions worldwide. With an Obama presidency, sadly for "pro-life"
groups, this trend will end. But the pro-lie movement against UNFPA
will continue.

Hillary has been a big supporter of UNFPA, and for good reason. The
UN is, despite press reports to the contrary, primarily a relief
agency. It provides assistance to those living in the most dangerous
and unstable places on earth. The role of UNFPA, one of its agencies,
is to provide lifesaving interventions in the reproductive field:
delivering babies, creating healthy births, ensuring that women are
well enough to become mothers again, and giving families the methods to
space children. (These, by the way, are goals that Susan B. Anthony
certainly would have endorsed.)

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

UNFPA does not provide abortion. In fact, the organization states explicitly,
"UNFPA…does not provide support for abortion services." Instead,
UNFPA is the supplier of 41 percent of the world’s total needed
contraceptive (or prevention) services. It does this all on a meager
budget, $500 million, provided by nations that believe in its mission.
UNFPA is by many standards a model of what the UN does well. It has a
tremendous impact on the people in greatest need, and it does so on a
shoestring. As economist Jeffrey Sachs,
author of The End of Poverty and, according to Time magazine, one of
the world’s one hundred most influential people, explained, "UNFPA’s
work is absolutely vital."

Sadly, the organization’s good work providing people in poor
countries the ability to plan a pregnancy put it on a collision course
with the U.S. anti-family planning movement. While domestically, our
anti-sex fundamentalists tend to act covertly to roll back access to
birth control, they act brazenly abroad. In Kosovo they characterized
UNFPA’s efforts to provide emergency contraception to female refugees
who had been raped and wanted to prevent pregnancy as "ethnic cleansing
" and "genocide." They followed UNFPA workers into Iraq to suggest the
emergency obstetric care clinics it was constructing and staffing was
instead the headquarters for an "abortion jihad."

This heckling of humanitarian relief efforts is coordinated by a group based in Front Royal, Virginia, the Population Research Institute (PRI). When Bush took office, PRI saw its opportunity. The staff of six was imaginative. In 2002, they amplified their slander campaign against UNFPA claiming it was working with the Chinese government to enforce its coercive one-child policy.

The truth was the very opposite. UNFPA was working with the Chinese
government to prove that voluntary family planning would lead to better
outcomes for Chinese citizens as well as the Chinese government. In
fact, UNFPA was having lots of success
persuading the Chinese to relax their coercive and brutal one-child
policy, the goal of their work there. It had even documented a dramatic
decline in abortion rates in the Chinese counties it focused, from 24
percent to 10 percent. (To put this in context, the current abortion rate in the U.S. is 21 percent.)
Just when UNFPA was succeeding in proving to the Chinese the one-child
policy was not only inhumane but also ineffective, PRI swooped in with
its claims of complicity. Bush, eager to lock lips with his fanatical
base, ignored the advice of his own state department, as well as many
allied nations, and opted to go with the swirly eyed lunacy of the six
staffers of PRI. At their request, Bush quickly froze all U.S. funds to
UNFPA, which represented 12 percent of its budget.

Since the accusations were made, over 145 diplomats have looked into
the spurious claims made by PRI. Not one investigator has been able to
validate PRI’s accusations against UNFPA.

Nonetheless, UNFPA has not received U.S. funding since 2002,
amounting to a loss of $161 million dollars. Many countries have
appealed to the U.S. to restore funding to UNFPA, including UN ambassadors from more than 50 countries who
explained that "The least developed countries, 34 of which are in
Africa, receive the bulk of UNFPA funding and will be most affected."
Thanks to our "pro-life" movement, the US holds the ignoble distinction
of being the only country to ever withhold funds to UNFPA for political
reasons.

The effects of U.S. policy are tangible. Johns Hopkins researchers have estimated the magnitude.
According to the researchers, the loss of funding to UNFPA has resulted
in 1.9 million infant deaths, 135,000 maternal deaths, 60 million
unintended pregnancies, 25 million abortions.

Anita Rahman, president of Americans for UNFPA,
an organization formed to educate the American public about the impact
this U.S. religious fundamentalist plot has had on women, babies and
families worldwide, once said, "We dream of the day when the United
States government will once again contribute financially to UNFPA and
be part of the international community’s work to promote the health and
dignity of women everywhere." With Obama and Clinton guiding foreign
policy, that dream will come true. Meanwhile, the "pro-life" movement
plots another nightmare.

Obama to Restore UNFPA Funding, Says Congresswoman Maloney

Emily Douglas

At the launch of UNFPA's annual State of the World report, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, a longtime advocate of international women's health, told reporters that President-Elect Obama will restore UNFPA funding.

To the tune of a missing $43 million for each of his seven years in office, President Bush has denied funding to UNFPA, the UN agency responsible for global family planning programs. At the launch of UNFPA’s annual State of the World report, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, a longtime advocate of international women’s health, told reporters that President-Elect Obama will restore UNFPA funding. "We are about to see major cultural change in Washington," Maloney said, "One big change is that UNFPA will be funded."

The Bush administration has insisted that the US cannot fund UNFPA because the agency supports coercive family planning practices in China. Multiple investigations have found no connection.

Add this to a repeal of the global gag rule to a list of actions Obama could take early in his administration that would will change the lives of women around the world. 
According
to the advocacy group Americans for UNFPA
, had the U.S. honored
its obligations to UNFPA, its contributions could have prevented 294,000
maternal deaths and would have allowed 82 million women to delay pregnancy.

UNFPA’s State of the World report focuses closely on the way in which inequalities between women and men worldwide impinge social and economic development. The report reminds us that women are particularly marginalized by drastic worldwide economic disparities:

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

  • Of the world’s one billion poorest people, three fifths are women and girls.
  • Of the 960 million adults in the world who cannot read, two thirds are women.
  • Seventy per cent of the 130 million children who are out of school are girls.
  • Up to half of all adult women have experienced violence at the hands of their intimate partners.

Maloney pointed that Congress has signaled its support for UNFPA more than once. "Six times under Bush, the House of Representatives and the Senate
passed funding to continue the critical work of the UNFPA," Maloney said. "President Obama will have to do nothing but let the will of Congress go through." Indeed, in July, I reported that Congress allocated record funding levels to international family planning programs and to UNFPA in particular, with the House bill including a provision that would prevent future presidential administrations from blocking funds to UNFPA.  Bush vetoed the bill.

The UNFPA report includes a series of excellent videos on women’s health and rights worldwide. Check out this introductory video: