Europe: All Talk on Reproductive Health?

Rupert Walder

European parliaments love to talk about their commitment to sexual and reproductive health and rights, but their funding priorities tell a different story.

While I defer to Suzanne Petroni's recent comment that talking about population again will gain no new allies in Washington, I refute her suggestion that European governments' support for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) "has generally been quite strong."

Reproductive health advocates and activists still have a long way to go towards getting European governments to commit sufficient funding to – as well as discussing the theoretical merits of – SRHR programs and projects. From a distance, European parliaments may appear a haven of liberal support for SRHR compared to Washington. But they – like their North American counterparts – must be judged on their actual performance as well as the relative erudition of their debate on sexual and reproductive health and individual rights. Parliaments debate. Governments act on that debate, depending on how important they feel the debate has been to national, regional and international political and economic priorities. Assistance to sexual and reproductive health remains a low political priority throughout Europe.

Only six European donors have reached the UN target of allocating their GNP to development aid. European donors only account for 40% of aid to population and sexual and reproductive health activities. And while many European countries do continue to increase their contributions to population and reproductive health activities, this increase is slow. There is still a shortfall of approximately 61% from external donors for the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) agenda in the developing world.

"Policy support from European governments since [the ICPD in] Cairo has been very strong. What is less obvious is the provision of actual resources," says David Daniels, an expert in health systems and director of health care consultancy YozuMannion Ltd. "In Europe," he argues, "there is an important defense of language and policy, but less actual money being allocated for genuine sexual and reproductive health programs."

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So while support to SRHR programs and projects in the developing world may remain an interesting point of debate in European parliaments, it is not an economic priority by any means for most European governments. (Indeed, I also believe that trends towards sector-wide support to developing world countries actually provides some European donors with a outlet mechanism for exactly how their development aid money gets spent at all.)

Which leaves us pretty much all in the same boat with a lack of sufficient funding for that – fairly straightforward and fundamentally not very expensive – Program of Action developed in Cairo.

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