Donors Shift Focus from Latin American Women

Karim Velasco

Since the nineties, international donor aid has shifted priority away from family planning programs in Latin America. Now women's advocacy groups are trying to bring attention back to their region.

On June 3, RH Reality
Check and Americans for UNFPA hosted an online forum
on global women’s health in the American political agenda. During
the forum I had the opportunity to highlight the fact that in Latin America
USAID’s priorities and targets have radically shifted in the last

As I wrote, in the nineties, USAID’s reproductive rights funded programs
in the region were so large and aggressive that they sometimes even led to
abuses in which a woman’s right to reproductive autonomy was systematically ignored in
the name of prevention of unintended pregnancies.

A decade later,
with a different party ruling in Washington, family planning programs
and NGOs working on these issues saw their USAID funding severely cut,
forcing government policies to reorient their aims and NGOs to rethink
their projects and activities if they were willing to continue receiving
USAID financial aid. This has of course severely affected most long
term projects focusing on women’s
reproductive rights that started in the nineties, and has ultimately affected
overall women’s rights in the region.

Unfortunately, overall
funding for civil society organizations working on women’s rights
issues and gender equality appears to have been going down worldwide
as a result of the new aid environment and its consequences on the relations
with the donors. Precisely due to the growing concern on this
theme, the UK
Gender and Development Network

launched a report
early this year on the new aid environment and its implications on civil
society organizations’ work.

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The report points out that the
Beijing Women’s Conference encouraged donors to increase their support
to civil society organizations working on gender; however, changes in the aid structures started in the late nineties, when donors grew frustrated with lack of results, leading to "a feeling that projects run by donors and civil society organizations lacked the coverage, capacity and coordination to make any significant

Donor attention shifted focused to poverty issues,
especially in Africa, both because of the UN Millennium Development Goals and because the Official Development Assistance in accordance to the World Bank and OECD parameters is guided by macroeconomic indicators that do not necessarily show inequalities within societies in middle income countries. As a result, funding has been re-directed "away from ‘middle-income’
countries in Central and South America where (…) many poor women —
and indeed all women in areas of sexual and reproductive health — are
prevented from accessing their rights."

The report also emphasizes
the fact that sexual and reproductive health rights are declining in
some Latin American countries due to the loss of funding. These new aid environment
principles were finally endorsed by the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness in 2005 and "marked major changes in the focus
of aid — away from funding civil society and donor projects back to
funding the state and away from funding a wide range of countries to
a focus on low income countries — and the mechanisms of aid."

In Colombia in June, Latin American and Caribbean women’s organizations gathered to discuss
the effects of the new aid environment in the region, hoping to raise their concerns at the Third High Level Forum on Aid
in Accra, Ghana, in September. The women’s groups agreed that the feminization of poverty, the eradication
of gender violence and the defense of sexual and reproductive rights
are the core of their agenda, although the resources they have for
this purposes diminish every day. They concluded that for the Accra
debate to be inclusive and participatory when reviewing aid effectiveness,
it is necessary to acknowledge the peculiarities of the Latin American
context as mentioned.

This already delicate
situation is exacerbated when the US — usually a major donor in developing
countries — cuts its funding due to questionable reasons. Rewire
has already reported on Bush’s denial to fund UNFPA for seven years in a row now, counting a total
amount of US $235 million so far! The fact that he bases his decisions
on groundless reasons is not new either. However, it makes me wonder
how long this situation will last, especially taking into account that
there will be a changing of the guard in Washington by the end of the
year and neither of the two parties involved has actually expressed
real concern about reproductive rights or women’s health issues.
This situation is severely exacerbated by the fact that UNFPA has been
particularly proactive in the region by providing technical assistance
to NGO’s as well as to government officials, and is an important donor
itself for numerous civil society organizations working on sexual and
reproductive health issues that struggle among themselves to access
to sometimes meaningless funds.

Although the scenario
appears to be discouraging it is important that civil society organizations
continue pushing for changes on the new aid environment. Let’s hope
that the Accra Forum is a suitable stage to address these issues.

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