This week, policymakers, donors, and advocates from around the world are convening in London to assess progress towards achieving the Family Planning 2020 goals. What a difference five years can make. The last time the global community gathered was during a period of vital transition in international development: the MDGs were coming to an end and governments recognized the need to develop a stronger framework for reaching the most vulnerable. Advancing the rights of women and girls—particularly access to reproductive health—was at the center of many of those conversations. And in the U.S., leadership on these issues was strengthened by an administration and President that firmly believed in global dialogue, collaboration and diplomacy.
Contrast that with where we find ourselves today, a little more than 170 days into the Trump-Pence administration. In that short time, the administration has launched an onslaught of policies that have set a trajectory for a greatly diminished role for the United States as a global power and defender of human and sexual and reproductive rights.
On January 23rd, the Trump-Pence administration imposed the Global Gag Rule and dramatically expanded the scope of the policy to all global health assistance. Trump’s expanded Global Gag Rule impacts over $8 billion in U.S. funding and threatens to exclude some of the most effective—and in some cases, only—health providers in over 60 low and middle income countries. The very providers the donor community is depending on to achieve the FP2020 goals are now being defunded as a result of Trump’s Global Gag Rule.
At the end of March, the Trump-Pence administration eliminated the U.S. contribution to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a core FP2020 partner and the principal multilateral organization working to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights around the world. Finally, for the first time since the inception of USAID’s population assistance program in 1965, a President’s budget request proposing the complete elimination of all international family planning and reproductive health funding was advanced to Congress. If enacted, the budget would significantly diminish the ability of USAID to effectively partner in initiatives such as FP2020. In particular, it would especially harm USAID’s critical role as a leader in the provision of contraceptive supplies.
We can look to the recent G20 summit for some clues on the way forward. At the end of a tumultuous week of negotiations and protests, a clear theme had emerged: the rest of the world has already begun to turn away from the United States as a convener, a strategist—as a source of leadership and locus of power whose participation is critical to solving our most intransigent problems. While the Trump-Pence administration blustered about withdrawing from key trade partnerships, Asian countries like Japan and China quickly moved to strengthen key partnerships. Most notably, Japan and the European Union quickly moved to propose a new trade architecture. Where the United States balked on climate change, the rest of the world stridently reaffirmed the Paris accord and a shared vision around global cooperation. Where the U.S. had expected to set the agenda, it found that while it was still invited to the party, it had now become “a back-row kid.”
Up to now, U.S. leadership has played an essential role in health and development for developing countries, and that position should not be ceded or sidelined. Unfortunately, this administration believes otherwise. Global policy makers and leaders in the donor community at the FP2020 Summit must acknowledge that the actions of this administration will negatively impact the progress we have made to date, and must begin to devise a new vision for SRHR leadership and new strategies for coordinated action. Strategies that reflect the values and priorities of the rest of the world—and of the 214 million women who still face an unmet need for contraception.
Happily, we have not been idle.
In January, 346 global leaders, including former heads of state, current elected officials and Members of Parliament publicly opposed Trump’s Global Gag Rule. Initiatives like SheDecides are also an important step in the right direction (even as we acknowledge the reality that no donor government or private foundation can fill the vacuum left by the loss of U.S. leadership in the near future).
We must look at this new time not only for the challenge it presents but also for the opportunity to strategically shift the locus of power away from donor capitals to a more sustainable, country-driven approach—especially by accelerating investments in sexual and reproductive health in the global South. FP2020 is the platform best positioned to catalyze the tectonic shift required to fully concentrate our energies on this new global center. In the last five years, it has secured commitments from 39 of its 69 focus countries and $1.3 billion in bilateral funding for family planning. At the country level, the Opportunity Fund of Advance Family Planning and Faith Plus Family Planning Fund managed by PAI, which provide grant and technical support to Southern partners in service of advancing FP2020’s goals, have resulted in approximately $600,000 in budget allocations for family planning and reproductive health services, including in $21,000 in South Sudan—one of the newest countries to make a commitment to FP2020.
We need to strengthen these investments as well as continue to provide platforms to deepen partnerships with CSOs in the global South. This will help to ensure more women and girls have access to high quality family planning services and supplies, strengthen health systems and reduce donor dependency for family planning funding. Let us use this moment to begin crafting a new way forward.
We call on more heads of state and foundation leaders to endorse the United States where it continues to hold the line on sexual and reproductive rights and to make clear their opposition to harmful U.S. policies and interventions—like Melinda Gates did most recently. We need the voices of supportive and progressive donor governments to join in the opposition; we need leaders and ministers from the global South; and we need foundations and the private sector to join