As the world marks International
Women’s Day on March 8, the United States is poised to reassert progressive
leadership on a wide range of global sexual and reproductive health
The Obama administration has
the groundwork for better protecting women’s health globally by rescinding the anti-family planning
"global gag rule," pledging to restore financial support for the
United Nations Population Fund and committing the United States to meet
the Millennium Development Goals.
The fact remains, however,
that U.S. policy in these areas has lagged badly over the past decade.
Other countries and regions have forged ahead to promote the sexual
and reproductive health and rights of women across the developing world,
with European countries in particular moving in to fill the leadership
void. The United
States has much work to do
in order to catch up with many of its Western European peers and reassert
a leadership role.
There are several ways that
the Obama administration, assisted by a supportive congressional leadership,
can begin to reestablish the country’s global leadership:
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Increase foreign aid to
international family planning programs. U.S. advocates have been
calling for U.S.
family planning assistance
to be doubled, to at least $1 billion annually. A recently released
report by five former directors of the Population and Reproductive Health
Program of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) goes
even further, recommending that funding for USAID’s population budget
be set at $1.2 billion-and raised to $1.5 billion by fiscal year 2014.
support other development programs. Among programs that the United
States should help strengthen are those that ensure the promotion of
sexual and reproductive health beyond family planning, address girls’
and adult women’s education and secure women’s access to vocational
training and financial credit.
Look at the U.S. global
health effort as a whole. HIV/AIDS programs currently claim an extremely
high proportion of all resources allocated to U.S. global health efforts.
Particularly in difficult economic times, it will be a challenge to
increase funding for other critical health portfolios, which is necessary
to ensure an effective overall U.S. global health strategy that in turn
combats poverty and promotes sustainable development worldwide.
Reexamine restrictive policies.
Even a more progressive Congress is unlikely to repeal the 1973 Helms
Amendment, which bans U.S. funding for most abortion services abroad.
However, at least some of the ban’s harmful effects on women in developing
countries who obtain unsafe abortions could be alleviated by revising
guidance to the field to highlight activities that are permissible under
Advocate strongly at the
international level. Issues of sexual and reproductive health are
at risk of being lost among concerns of financial crisis and worsening
poverty in both developing and developed countries. It is imperative
that the United States remind other countries of the integral relationship
between reproductive health and economic development at the household,
community and country level, and fight to keep these issues on the world’s
agenda at major international conferences this year and in 2010.
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