The fundamental human rights we enjoy today have been won over many years. These rights are held up by international agreements and largely depend on our leaders working together for the protection of these rights. However, recently we have seen it only takes a few nations failing in this duty to turn back the clock on many of the hard-won human rights we are accustomed to in this modern world.
The idea of losing fundamental human rights seems farfetched as we sit in our comfortable first world seats. But, some of the most basic human rights are being lost for the most vulnerable in our world. This loss should concern us all. How can we sit quietly when the rights of the most vulnerable can be lost so easily?
In this post we want to highlight the loss of the basic right of choice for a woman or girl over matters concerning their body and their reproductive health. The rights we as women have over our bodies were hard-won rights that women over the centuries fought for. These are rights we cannot lose. And, we cannot stay quiet when these rights are being taken away from any woman or girl, but especially those who are most vulnerable.
The world can be a very difficult place for women in a developing country. The UN estimates that only 52 percent of women in developing nations are free to make their own decisions about sexual relations, contraceptive use and health care. These women live in a world where the basic decisions about their sexual health are made by others. In these most difficult places for women, you can find some of the most dedicated organisations working tirelessly to provide access to sexual healthcare, education and support. Unfortunately, this task has been made increasingly difficult for many agencies over the last year.
The most basic sexual and reproductive rights of women internationally are being threatened by the US gag order, otherwise known as the Mexico City Policy. This policy requires NGOs to certify that they will not perform or promote abortions anywhere in the world as a condition of receiving US family planning funds. This policy has been in place since 1985 but has been dramatically expanded in 2017 to include any recipient of US global aid funding. This aid, worth close to USD$8 Billion annually, is now only available to agencies and NGOs who promise to exclude abortion education or services from their programs. This expanded gag order has a massive impact on NGOs working with the most vulnerable women and girls in developing nations.
The expanded global gag order also forbids any funded organisation from working in partnership with or referring women to any other organisation which provides abortion services or information. With one signature the US gag order has blocked funding any NGO offering a woman a choice about her reproductive system. This one signature impacts the healthcare provided to pregnant women, leaving them without a choice. The consequences of this decision are real; more unintended pregnancies for women who are struggling in poverty, higher maternal mortality rates and a surge in unsafe abortions. How is this fair on these women?
The NGOs who have dedicated their work to helping these women and girls are now faced with a tough choice. They can choose to reject US funding and reduce the scale of their programs, or they can deny women access to the sexual healthcare they need. Both options mean that access to health services and information is now out of the reach of marginalised women living in poor and rural areas in developing nations.
We strongly believe all women and girls have a right over their own body. No one else has the right to make such important decisions on behalf of another person. Taking away a woman’s right to choose is wrong. Removing access to education and resources needed to keep women and girls healthy and safe is wrong. Yet, this is not only happening in developing nations in Africa and South Asia, it is also happening in some of the most modern nations too. The recent abortion ban passed in Alabama threatens the lives and health of women there. The ban excludes the option of abortion even in cases of rape or incest and threatens to imprison any health professional trying to help women access an abortion. Alabama is being joined by the states of Georgia, Ohio and Mississippi making abortion illegal within their borders. It is appalling that in 2019 the basic rights of a woman over her own body are being criminalised.
We worry about the future of global women’s rights when a decision made by an international leader can directly threaten the health, dignity and well-being of women and girls everywhere.
We envision a world where women and girls have a voice and a choice. And, we stand together with others, joining our voice to the growing outrage at this dismantling of women’s human rights.
What can we do?
Find out more about the international gag order and the impact it is having. Read real stories of women affected by this decision.
Find and support NGOs who have rejected US funding and continue to provide sexual health and reproductive services to all women and girls.
Add your voice to the growing outrage by joining a campaign and finding out how to make the noise a little louder: