From May 16 to 19 this year, advocates from around the world are coming together in Copenhagen for the Women Deliver conference. As they work to improve the lives of women and girls, we’re spotlighting their work and experiences here on the Ms. blog.
Attended by 5,000 people from 168 countries, the Women Deliver Conference is the largest global conference on the health rights, and wellbeing of women and girls. While the conference covers a wide range of gender issues, I have had the chance to attend sessions focused on reproductive health and rights where the main concern is the funding shortfall facing the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
UNFPA is working to improve family planning and maternal health and decrease maternal and infant mortality around the world—and is facing a shortfall of $140 million. With approximately 830 women dying from pregnancy and childbirth complications, 29,000 children under the age of five losing their lives to preventable causes every day and 225 million women with an unmet need for contraception, this funding cut is dangerous.
To fully appreciate the gravity of the situation, one needs only to look at the impact on Marie Stopes International, an international organization that relies on UNFPA funding for much of its reproductive health programs. The organization expects the projected shortfall to lead to an estimated 561,000 unintended pregnancies, 1900 maternal deaths and 180,000 unsafe abortions. And that is just this year. It will only get worse unless adequate funding is secured.
The current situation should be viewed as a public health emergency and every effort must be made to ensure that funding is found to prevent a disaster.
In the longer term, we must address the systemic causes of the crisis. The shortfall is the result of a shift in donor funding priorities and an overall decrease in funding for development programs. There is no quick fix for that. It will take time, creativity and use of new funding models—including public-private sector partnerships—to create sustainable and dependable funding streams.
Fortunately, the timing of the Women Deliver conference has enabled a coalition of advocacy and service delivery organizations to meet and strategize regarding both short and long term solutions. This coalition will continue to work together to address this and other issues that will require attention and collaboration if the dream of Women Deliver is to be fulfilled.
On the good news side—and this will be even more important if women don’t have access to adequate supplies of contraceptives—this meeting provided a huge step forward in the way abortion was discussed.
For the first time, a plenary session was devoted to abortion. The impact of the Helms Amendment, which has been used to prevent US funding for abortion services abroad, was discussed at length and delegates called for “safe, legal and available” services so that no woman feels guilt and shame for seeking a fundamental right and health care option.
That felt like a breakthrough to me.
Photo courtesy of DFID on Flickr and licensed under Creative Commons 3.0.
Catherine Cameron is the Senior Advisor for International Advocacy at Population Connection. She was formerly a member of Population Connection’s Board of Directors, Executive Director of the Wallace Global Fund, Director of the Special Projects and Vice President for International and Special Projects at Population Action International. Catherine has also been a Program Officer and consultant with the United Nations Population Fund, International Projects Administrator at Family Health International and a Frederiksen Fellow with USAID Philippines.