Cuts in developing funding would threat women's health

Maternal health and reproductive rights ensured by UNFPA are in risk over $140 million funding cuts. 

The total world population is estimated over 7.2 billion people, of which more than half are women. According to the UN population fund (UNFPA) about 222 million women lack access to family planning services, information and supplies, putting them at risk of unintended pregnancies.

The UNFPA has played a key role in maternal health and ensuring reproductive rights for millions of women. It is expecting to suffer over $140 million in funding cuts from its key donors: Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark and Finland.

Arthur Erken, Director of the Division of Communications and Strategic Partnerships, told IPS, donations to the entire international development community are being reduced, not only the ones for the UNFPA.

“We hope the recent downturn in contributions is temporary. Funding cuts to UNFPA, a relatively small organization with a focused mandate, are not easily absorbed as perhaps with larger entities, so we feel it is our duty to communicate to stakeholders the risks and impact of cuts,” he said.

Between 2014-2015 they've already reduced their funding. Sweden has reduced its contributions from $70.3 million to $57.4 million; Norway $69.1 million to $55.6 million; Finland $60.4 million to $38 million; the Netherlands $48.4 million to $39.6 million; and Denmark $41.9 million to $39.5 million.

According to Purnima Mane, former President of Pathfinder Internatonal, the UNFPA has used its funding to contribute to the considerable progress made by countries in reducing maternal deaths, increasing access to contraception, raising the marriage age, preventing HIV, reduce unintended pregnancies and protecting childbirth.

“The recent budget deficit facing UNFPA, as a result, will have tragic implications globally but especially in the developing world,” she said.  Despite this being a wise investment, she says, development aid gets cuts when donor governments face challenges closer to home, like the refugee crisis.

The reduction will translate to less resources for country level programming and possibly jeopardize the achievements made so far.

“It would be a tragedy for development as a whole but could also create a scenario where a few years from now the demands on development funding would grow even more exponentially”, said Mane.

Maria Jose Alcala, Director, Secretariat of High Level Task Force for International Conference on Population and Development, (ICPD), told IPS investments in gender equality and sexual an reproductive health need to increase both through domestic and external sources of financing.

"We wouldn’t have such high rates of maternal mortality in the 21st century if the investments promised 20 years ago had been made all along to reach the (ICPD) Cairo goal of universal access to sexual and reproductive health."

Erken, said the $140 million budget cuts will affect UNFPA core resources in which it relies to maintain global presence, advocacy and policy guiding, as well as its response to crisis situations.

UNFPA is exploring with traditional donors ways to sustain specific initiatives. It is also reaching out to non-traditional donors like the private sector, foundations and multilateral financial institutions. According to Erken the fund is prioritizing to preserve initiatives which protect the health and lives of women and young people.

The reallocation of resources into the needs of the refugee crisis is the main reason why traditionally strong donors in the SRHR (sexual and reproductive health and rights) sector have had budget cuts.

Sivanathi Thanenthiran, Executive Director of the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW), based in Malaysia, told IPS, "of course, the refugee crisis is putting a pressure on many European governments who have taken in refugees. However it is hoped that this is a short-term correction that needs to take place, rather than a long-term strategy.”

She argues such issues must be managed through continuous investment in development and reducing inequalities in the world instead of divesting from this commitments.

Helen Clark,  one of the candidates for the next UN Secretary General and Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) was quoted in The Guardian saying UN agencies are experiencing a drop in their core funding.

“It seems we are in a perfect storm for long-term development funding.. Just about every currency is down against the dollar.. donors are subtracting money for refugee settlements. We’re seeing a huge call on humanitarian budgets, so a number of things are coming together that do not make it easy now.”

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