Population Matters

Show Us the Money

November 2nd, 2009

This past week, I traveled to Addis Ababa with PI’s President, Bill Ryerson, to observe the International Parliamentarians’ Conference on the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action.  In listening to the parliamentarians describe the steps that are being taken in their respective countries, it’s hard to deny that progress is being made.  But with only five years remaining on the 20-year Programme of Action, it’s all too clear that the world is falling far short of the hopes that were raised by the 1994 Cairo agreement.

Yes, there is a far greater awareness today of the need to elevate the status of women in developing countries. Similarly, there is a growing understanding of the importance of providing universal access to family planning and other reproductive health services.  But awareness is no substitute for action.

Of all the Millennium Development Goals, MDG 5 (reducing maternal mortality and providing universal access to reproductive health services) is the one that shows the least progress. The reason is simple.  Donor nations, including the U.S., have not fulfilled their pledges.  All the diplomatic rhetoric is fine, but to paraphrase a famous Hollywood line:  Show us the money.

After a decade of declining support for international family planning assistance, the U.S. is once again boosting its funding and renewing its support for UNFPA. That’s critically important, but other donor nations are still backtracking on their commitments.  A representative from the Netherlands declared that his country would maintain its financial commitments to realizing MDG 5, but other donor nations remained largely silent on that point.

Still, it’s also important to recognize that money and services alone will not fulfill the Programme of Action or realize MDG 5. More than just a lack of clinics and reproductive health services, we also need to address the cultural barriers and practices that continue to depress the status of women in developing countries.  Unless we can do more to prevent early childhood marriages, domestic violence, marriage by abduction, and female genital mutilation, women and their reproductive health will continue to suffer, as will efforts to expand the use of family planning services.

While in Addis Ababa, I was pleased to sit in on workshops being conducted by the Population Media Center.  It gave me a chance to meet the writers of the PMC-generated serial dramas that are helping to promote family planning, prevent the spread of AIDS, and combat female genital mutilation in Ethiopia.  Reaching about half of Ethiopia’s population, the radio serial dramas produced by PMC are showing real success. Surveys conducted at family planning clinics indicate that the soap operas are dramatically raising awareness and boosting demand for family planning and HIV/AIDS testing.

I also learned in Addis Ababa that the Ethiopian government is responding to that increased demand by rapidly expanding the number of family planning clinics and health workers. In Ethiopia and elswhere there is still cause for hope and time for action.

Now, if only the donor nations were fulfilling all their commitments….Show us the money!

Urban health workers monitor children and women’s health, and provide contraceptives to women through USAID health programs. Anita Khemka

Urban health workers monitor children and women’s health, and provide contraceptives to women through USAID health programs. Anita Khemka

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

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