The Telegraph reported on Baroness Liz Sugg speech defending UKaid use to fight the global rollback of women’s rights.
She said “Preventing and responding to gender-based violence is everyone’s responsibility. We need to prioritise the protection of women and girls from the outset of humanitarian responses. We must take a ‘no regrets’ approach to responding to violence. And we need to make sure that women and girls have access to the support they need in crisis settings, including vital sexual and reproductive health services. We must also stand strongly against the rollback of women’s rights. That’s why I’m proud UK aid will continue to champion, defend and support access to life-saving sexual and reproductive health services for the world’s poorest women and girls and those affected by humanitarian crises.”
Britain will fight the global ‘rollback’ of women’s rights, says UK development minister
The new international development minister used her speech in Norway at the end of May to make it clear that Britain will not follow America and “rollback” access to abortions and other reproductive health services.
Baroness Sugg, a 42-year-old former operations chief to David Cameron, told delegates at a conference on gender in Oslo that the UK must “stand strongly against the rollback of women’s rights.”
The move follows a series of announcements effectively banning abortions in Alabama and Georgia, while the Trump administration’s “global gag rule” is starving charities of funding around the world.
And at the United Nations in April, a clause referencing access to reproductive health was removed in a resolution condemning sexual violence because of the United States. Trump’s administration opposed the statement because they said the wording implied support for abortions.
“We must also stand strongly against the rollback of women’s rights,” Baroness Sugg told the audience. “That’s why I’m proud UK aid will continue to champion, defend and support access to life-saving sexual and reproductive health services for the world’s poorest women and girls and those affected by humanitarian crises.”
Access to reproductive rights has been a major battleground in the area of development, despite evidence which shows that family planning stabilises population growth rates, empowers women and helps stem the spread of diseases like HIV.
“The current politics of polarization can sometimes lead to adverse effects on the fight for women’s rights,” Natalia Kanem executive director of UNFPA, told The Telegraph.
In America, conservative forces have the ear of the Trump administration. The Mexico City policy, known as the “global gag rule”, has been introduced by every Republican president since Ronald Reagan, but Trump has dramatically expanded its scope.
The policy effectively prevents any charity which relies on US funding from offering or even advising on termination.
The reach is enormous – the global gag applies to roughly $8.8 billion of funding. Previous versions of the policy placed restrictions on some $575 million.
While this money is still spent on global health, it shifts funding away from some of the most effective initiatives to others such as faith based groups opposed to abortions.
“I don’t think anyone was taken by surprise that President Trump reintroduced the global gag rule, but we were surprised by the massive expansion,” said Luisa Orza, HIV and gender lead at Frontline AIDS, an organisation which has never previously been impacted by the gag policy.
“There’s huge alarm building as suddenly organisations are being asked to compromise their work or sacrifice potential funding,” she said. “We made the decision as an organisation that we don’t want to have our work on sexual health and reproductive health compromised.
“We really value the UK government’s ongoing commitment to women’s and girls’ rights and empowerment, including on sexual and reproductive health. They have been unequivocal on their stance on safe abortion.”
Many leading charities have lost huge chunks of funding – despite countries such as Denmark, Canada, Belgium and Sweden stepping up.
Marie Stopes International (MSI), one of the world’s largest family planning organisations, lost 17 per cent of their funding overnight when the policy came into force in 2017.
“But the impact will be far more than financial,” Sarah Shaw, head of advocacy at MSI, told The Telegraph. “If a girl does not have access to reproductive health services at the crucial moment that can have a lifelong on effect.
“And people who believe women should not have access to these services are having their opinions validated by the leader of the free world. There’s a chilling effect that I think will be really hard to recover from,” she added.
The UK government has a strong record supporting family planning and abortion rights at home and abroad but a near-total ban on termination remains in Northern Ireland.
“The roll-back on reproductive rights in the US is happening at a terrifyingly rapid rate,” said Grainne Teggart, Amnesty UK’s Northern Ireland campaign manager. “We should be outraged by this but… women in Northern Ireland are subjected to one of the most severe abortion bans in the world.”
In her speech in Oslo at the first UN conference on ending sexual and gender-based violence in humanitarian crises, Baroness Sugg also announced £7 million to support women in Syria.
The money will be used to train midwives and health workers to treat and care for survivors of sexual violence and support access to family planning.