By Katja Iversen | The Lancet | 9 September 2017
The Lancet Editorial (July 1, p 1)1 and Obituary (July 1, p 24)2 published following the death of Babatunde Osotimehin—the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund—gave a fitting tribute to his huge contribution to sexual and reproductive health and rights, but also provided a timely reminder of how the current political climate in the USA threatens to undermine gender equality, jeopardise the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women, and reverse years of hard work and progress.
The latest research3 from the Guttmacher Institute shows a steady decline in the number of women of reproductive age with an unmet need for modern family planning methods. However, this research was done before the current US Administration reimposed its controversial Mexico City Policy—also known as the Global Gag Rule—which will withdraw millions of dollars from hundreds of organisations that provide vital family planning services worldwide. In 2016, the number of women of reproductive age using modern family planning in 69 of the world's poorest countries reached 300 million for the first time,4 but if no alternative funding sources are found for family planning services, the considerable progress and development seen might stall or even decline. This would be a tragedy, not only for the women and girls who would be directly affected, but for positive human development.
A woman's ability to make choices about her own body and fertility, which requires access to modern contraception and safe abortion services, is fundamental for gender equality, economic development, and progress for all. Without family planning, the opportunity for girls to obtain a rounded education is restricted. Women's economic empowerment and equality relies on the bodily autonomy that access to family planning provides, and with that comes economic prosperity, security, and prosperity for all. The absence of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, such as family planning, will place women's health and lives at risk. The Global Gag Rule will considerably increase both the number of unplanned pregnancies and, inevitably and ironically, the number of abortions it aims to prevent.
Delegates at the global Family Planning Summit held in London on July 11, 2017, spoke loudly and strongly to remind the world of what is at stake and what is right. Gender equality and access to family planning is not just a women's issue, it is a health issue, economic issue, and prerequisite for development, and it is everybody's business. When girls and women are able to make choices about their own lives, including reproduction, they are empowered to create a better economic future for themselves, their families, their communities and their societies, which is something we can all benefit from and celebrate.
I declare no competing interests.