The United Kingdom’s Decision to Cut Foreign Aid and it's effects on Women’s Reproductive Rights and Sexual Health.
Around The World,  Reproductive Rights and Justice

The United Kingdom’s Decision to Cut Foreign Aid is having Catastrophic Effects on Women’s Reproductive Rights and Sexual Health.

The continued cut to foreign aid from the UK government has proved to be catastrophic for many countries in crisis and the NGOs providing support to them. Yemen, often considered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, has had international aid from the UK violently cut by more than 60%. This has pushed more than 100 UK Charities to come forward and condemn this decision. 

However, notably, there has been little to no coverage on how this has had an impact on women’s reproductive rights. This piece aims to discuss and provide a brief analysis of the effects of cutting international aid has had on reproductive rights.



Understanding Reproductive Rights

Reproductive rights of women and girls are most predominantly recognized as the right to have control over your own fertility. This can include starting, spacing, and stopping fertility. As pointed out by much research, if women are unable to enjoy and exercise their reproductive rights, this can have a knock-on effect on women and girls’ education, family, safety, and health.  

More recently, and as a result of the women’s health movement, reproductive rights have come to encompass much more than just the choice and control over fertility. Amnesty International defines reproductive rights as:


Sexual and reproductive rights mean you should be able to make your own decisions about your body and:

• get accurate information about these issues

• access sexual and reproductive health services including contraception

• choose if, when, and who to marry

• decide if you want to have children and how many

They also mean our lives should be free from all forms of sexual violence, including rape, female genital mutilation, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, and forced sterilization.


Regarding the definition provided by Amnesty International, ensuring that women and girls can exercise their reproductive rights is essential for the complete wellbeing of women and girls.  This is because their definition importantly demonstrates that reproductive rights have complex significance to other basic human rights, ‘including the right to life, the right to be free from torture, the right to health, the right to privacy, the right to education, and the prohibition of discrimination (OHCHR).



Reproductive rights are considered to be violated if the following occurs: early marriage, FGM/C, forced sterilization, forced abortion, forced virginity examinations, and denial of access to services that women require for their health. These violations, unfortunately, continue to occur due to patriarchal structures present in society, education, the family, and healthcare. Women are often valued for their ability to reproduce or can be heavily scrutinized and punished for their sexuality.



To begin to dismantle beliefs and values that put women in unsafe positions denying their reproductive rights, many educational programs are run to make women aware of their rights, advocate for their autonomy and provide access to information. These programs are crucial in communities where these violations persist. However, as will be discussed below, funding for these vital hubs is being cut and some are even forced to close. 

Cutting International Aid

In November 2020, the UK government announced that there would be a cut in the foreign aid budget. Insisting that this decision was based on an economic emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many NGOs expressed their concern on the effects of this. As stated by the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) “When funding stops, women and girls suffer”.


 

The UK once contributed £154m to contraceptives and reproductive health globally. This has now been cut to just £23m. The £130m now withheld, has been estimated to prevent ‘around 250,000 maternal and child deaths, 14.6 million unintended pregnancies and 4.3 million unsafe abortions’ (UNFPA, 2021). Moreover, it has forced early closures of many vital hubs and programs including Approaches in Complex and Challenging Environments for Sustainable SRHR (ACCESS) a program that provided essential research on the barriers to accessing sexual health services. 


 

Sexual health services not only provide essential health care for women but also play an integral role in establishing gender equality and promoting women’s rights. Access to sexual health services allows women to make an autonomous decision over their bodies and sexuality. These cuts to foreign aid hinder this progress and may begin to place women in precarious positions regarding their reproductive rights. 


 

As the foreign aid cuts continue to cause detrimental effects across the globe, there has been little coverage or media outrage on the effects on women’s rights specifically. However, NGOs continue to challenge the UK’s decision. The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) has since begun legal action since the UK Foreign Office informed that they were terminating project funding. 


 

As has been discussed widely in the Rights of Equality October Newsletter, reproductive rights and access to safe abortion are not only crucial for the general wellbeing and health of women but also for establishing what we should expect from society. There are currently many organizations calling for collective action and collecting evidence of the effects of cutting international aid has had on women and their access to sexual health services. 

Please see below for just a few petitions and calls for change. 

Petitions: 

Action Aid- Don’t Cut Foreign Aid 

I’m a Masters student at the London School of Economics and am thoroughly interested in the field of human rights and women's rights. It has always been included in conversations within my family. I’m very lucky to have been brought up in a family where I’ve been encouraged to work my hardest and believe I can do anything. However, during my time in education, especially while studying sociology at the undergraduate level, I have come to understand that women, in so many areas, begin at a disadvantage due to structural inequalities. I believe everyone should be fighting for the equality of their peers. And although women’s rights have seen some amazing progress, it’s never over until there is full global equality for women and men.

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