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Family Planning Gets $2.5 Billion Boost at London Summit

Under the shadow of Donald Trump’s proposed funding cuts, governments and NGOs have renewed their commitment to make family planning available to 120 million more women and girls by 2020.

Written by Jumana Farouky Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes
Halima Lila, from Tanzania and Sophie and Margaret Bolaji, Uganda join a queue of 214 women, each representing one million women and girls from the developing world, forms outside a 'No Contraceptives' clinic in London, to highlight the plight of those who don't have access to the contraceptives. John Nguyen/PA Wire

LONDON – Representatives from more than 60 governments, private companies and foundations pledged at least $2.5 billion to expand access to family planning worldwide in London on Tuesday.

The summit – hosted by the U.K. government, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – convened with the goal of getting modern contraceptives and sexual and reproductive healthcare to the 214 million women worldwide who do not want to get pregnant, but who have no access to safe family planning options.

Delegates agreed almost universally that the focus of future family planning efforts should be on adolescents and women in crisis settings.

“The empowerment of women is about dignity, but also about the contribution we make to our families, our communities and the well-being of the world,” said Kristalina Georgieva, CEO of the World Bank.

This year’s summit followed on from the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning, when more than 20 governments joined together in the FP2020 partnership, promising to make modern contraceptives available to 120 million more women and girls by 2020.

Reaching that goal will cost an estimated $233 million a year, and today, at the halfway mark, only 30 million more women have access to family planning services.

To get closer to their target, several organizations increased their commitments to FP2020, with the biggest boost coming from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Melinda Gates announced that the organization would increase family planning funding by 60 percent: an additional $375 million over the next four years.

Gates’ announcement triggered inevitable comparisons with the Trump administration’s recent proposal to drop its financial support for UNFPA. The U.S. government – which had no representative at Tuesday’s summit – is currently by far the world’s largest family planning donor, giving $600 million this year alone. And in January this year, Trump reinstated the Global Gag Rule, which cut funding to overseas NGOs that offer abortion services or advice.

But when asked if the foundation’s new commitment is specifically a reaction to the U.S. cuts, Gates said, “Absolutely not.”

“There is nothing anyone can do to fill the bucket of the money that the U.S. has committed to family planning,” she said, adding that she is still hoping the cuts won’t go through. “I’m looking to Congress to hold that funding.”

Several of the delegates said the bulk of their pledges would go toward supporting family planning services for adolescents, noting that the world today has the largest population of people aged between 10 and 24 years old in history, most of them living in the least developed countries.

Canada’s delegate Marie-Claude Bibeau, the country’s minister of international development, said that of the $650 million the country committed to sexual and reproductive health in March, $166 million would go to programs aimed at adolescents. Vodafone pledged $1 million for services targeting teenagers in Tanzania.

“If we give women the chance to own their bodies, they can own their futures,” said Priti Patel, international development secretary for the U.K., who announced that her department will increase its family planning funding by $58 million a year until 2022.

Many at the summit also promised more focus on countries hit by humanitarian crises. The number of displaced people has reached an all-time high at more than 65 million globally, and wars in Syria, South Sudan and Yemen present unique challenges for anyone trying to get contraceptives and sexual health services to the women who need them most.

Dutch minister for trade Lilianne Ploumen, who launched the SheDecides initiative earlier this year in response to Trump’s reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule, said the Netherlands will give an extra $5.7 million for contraception and safe abortion access for women and girls in conflict zones. “Sexual and reproductive rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights,” she said.

Uganda, which is currently host to 1.25 million refugees and the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis, recommitted to allocating $5 million every year to expand the range of contraceptives available to women in the country.

A handful of other countries – Haiti, South Sudan and Chad – became first-time members of the FP2020 movement, making commitments to increase access to family planning information and resources at home.

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