UK aid cuts endanger women

“The damage to women’s lives and futures will be worse than that caused by Trump’s Global Gag Rule.”

Sanou Gning, MSI Sahel Director

As 2020 came to a close, those of us who work in women’s reproductive health were hopeful. After four hard years of struggling to replace funding lost under Trump’s Global Gag Rule, we saw a light at the end of the tunnel. With the Biden administration we hoped to regain ground and even expand our outreach.

Unfortunately, we’re facing a new challenge. The UK government announced this week that it would cut its international aid funding commitments from 0.7% of national income to 0.5%, a reduction of more than £4 billion. The £4 billion in funding was earmarked to support many causes, including: aiding people living in countries ravaged by war, helping people living in agricultural communities adapt and build resilience to climate change, expanding girl’s education programs and providing women with access to reproductive choice.

The news was devastating, and we held our breaths waiting to hear what programs would be cut.

Details of those cuts are now being announced and MSI has learned that the UK has cut 85% of aid funding pledged to the United Nations global family planning program – money that could have helped prevent pregnancy-related deaths.

A client is given a counselling session about her reproductive health, rights and family planning options at the MSI clinic in Jaipur, India. Cuts to UK aid funding will leave many women without access to care.

In 2020, MSI received an estimated $8.5 million worth of commodities from the UNFPA, contraceptives that freed women and girls from the worry of unintended pregnancies. With the ability to control their bodies, girls were able to continue their educations, women could plan their families, provide better care for their children and continue working for increased financial stability of whole families.

“Without access to contraception, a girl entering adolescence here today faces a perilous future, with little agency over the path her life will take. For a fairer future, we must protect access for these women.”

Dr. Carole Sekimpi, Country Director for MSI Uganda

Now, in addition to finding replacement funding for the teams who provide the reproductive services that women depend upon, MSI and our partners must also find funding for contraceptives.

In just the last two years, the funds MSI received as part of the Women’s Integrated Sexual Health (WISH) program, a consortium of partners that delivers contraception to some of the world’s most marginalized communities across Africa and South Asia, have provided reproductive choice to 3.5 million women, saving 22,000 lives. Without future funding from WISH, MSI may be forced to close 1,200 service delivery points, cutting off reproductive choice to women in rural, undeserved communities resulting in millions of unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions.

Governments and donors will have difficult decisions to make over the coming years. To those who say we can’t afford to do this for economic reasons related to Covid-19, our response is we can’t afford not to.

“Giving women and girls the power to make reproductive choices is one of the smartest global investments. There is never a good time to step back from this empowering, lifesaving work, but right now is perhaps the worst. Covid-19 has left health systems at a breaking point. The cuts will do untold harm to the progress made on preventing women dying from pregnancy related causes.”

Simon Cooke, MSI Reproductive Choices CEO

It costs less than 3 cents per day to protect a young woman from an unintended pregnancy. As the largest generation of young people in history approach their reproductive years, we call on donors not to miss this opportunity to unlock their potential and build a fairer future for all.