This article was originally published in The Hill.
Imagine you are a young mother in Uganda who has been forced into sex work because you have no other options to provide for your four children. Or a woman in Haiti studying to be a midwife after a devastating earthquake destroyed your country’s hospitals and its cadre of skilled birth attendants. Imagine you are a pregnant Syrian refugee, looking for a safe place to give birth, or an adolescent girl in Guatemala, going in secret to receive contraception because your husband expects a child every year but you want to pursue an education, a job, a future.
I have seen the challenges these women and so many more around the world have faced — girls, women and families who are in need of the same sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning, that I have been so privileged to enjoy.
For 50 years the U.S. has been a leader in funding international reproductive health and family planning efforts, a reflection of our American values of prosperity, security and goodwill. The Trump administration’s proposed fiscal 2018 budget request — which outlines a complete elimination of all reproductive health and family planning funding — stands in stark contrast to these values.
All of U.S. foreign aid makes up less than one percent of the total federal budget but can mean the difference between empowerment and oppression — and often life and death — for millions of people worldwide. The international reproductive health and family planning efforts that represent a tiny fraction of the foreign aid budget are fundamental to the health, dignity and well-being of individuals.
This aid is also a critical — and proven — intervention for global development issues from education to climate to economic development to security and stability. There is no question that women’s access to reproductive health and family planning is essential for sustainable development. In fact, despite current political debates around these issues, there has long been global, bipartisan consensus on this matter, from explicit inclusion in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals to bipartisan support for the creation of the UN Population Fund, the primary UN agency that works on reproductive health and family planning, as far back as 1969 under the Nixon administration.
But today the health and rights of women and families all over the world are jeopardized. The administration’s proposed slashing of all foreign aid for international reproductive health and family planning — layered on top of the administration’s recent decisions to reinstate and expand the Global Gag Rule and to eliminate funding for the population fund — pose the greatest threat to women’s health and rights in decades.
When girls and women can exercise their rights, protect their health and plan for their future, they thrive and their communities thrive. The sex worker in Uganda now acts as a peer educator to other sex workers in her area, offering much-needed services to women who are traditionally stigmatized in their community. The midwives in Haiti serve their community providing a full range of prenatal, safe birth, and antenatal care, including family planning. The pregnant Syrian refugee gave birth safely to a healthy baby, one of more than 7,000 infants delivered safely in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, which had been funded primarily through U.S. support to the population fund. And the adolescent girl in Guatemala works as a community health promoter, distributing the same contraceptives she once sought in secret to dozens of women in her rural community.
The truth is, we know how to make sexual and reproductive health and rights a reality for girls and women around the world. We have the information. We have the tools. But what we are missing is the political will from our world leaders, including right here at home in the U.S., to make this a reality.
Investing in their lives, their dreams and their contributions to the world matters for all of us. We have the opportunity to empower millions of girls, women, families and communities — but only if the U.S. maintains critical investments in international reproductive health and family planning.
Learn more about the Universal Access Project and get involved at www.universalaccessproject.org.