Last week, the House Foreign Affairs Committee enacted a bill intended to increase funding for the fight against HIV/AIDS to $50 million over the next five years. Unfortunately, it also may have had the effect of allowing the "Global Gag Rule" to be extended, for the first time ever, to PEPFAR-funded organizations. And even though there are efforts underway to walk this provision back in the AIDS program, it illuminates the larger issue that the "Global Gag Rule" still applies to other U.S. assistance programs.
On Day One user Islandchica23 believes that the next president needs to completely reverse the "Global Gag Rule" on day one of their presidency.
Islandchica23 explains: "One of the first things Bush did on his first day in office was to reinstate the 'Global Gag Rule.' The Global Gag Rule has cut funding for many, many women's rights NGOs around the world, thus undermining all women's rights. I would like to see, as a symbolic and literal opposite of what Bush did on his first day, the new President 'unsign' the Global Gag Rule on her or his first day."
This is a very healthy suggestion. Officially called the "Mexico City Policy," the Global Gag Rule restricts access to US funds for foreign NGOs that offer comprehensive family planning assistance. This can include counseling services that discuss abortion and even the distribution of contraceptives. So far, a number of NGOs that provide health services to women in the developing world have faced the stark decision between accepting US dollars -- and therefore limiting some of their health-critical work -- or simply folding up shop. This is not a decision that NGOs operating in places like sub-Saharan Africa or the Caribbean should be forced to make.
GlobalGagRule.org, an excellent resource for people who want to learn more about the detrimental effects of this policy, keeps tabs on the kinds of services denied to people who need it most. They report, for example, that 1,700 community-based agents in Ghana have been denied the support needed to provide important family planning services to rural communities. HIV/AIDS programs can also be adversely affected by the policy. When family planning organizations refuse to accept the terms of the policy, says GlobalGagRule.org, STD prevention services are undermined and condom supplies diminished because of the loss of U.S. assistance.
This is clearly a counterproductive policy. Not only does it deny critical resources to groups trying to improve the lives and welfare of vulnerable women around the world, but it makes the United States look terrible in the process. Reversing the Global Gag Rule would improve America's reputation and signal to the rest of the world that the United States is determined to work with, not against, groups dedicated to progressing women's health around the world.
Reversing the "Global Gag Rule" should be matched with the restoration of proper U.S. funding to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), as Hillary Clinton has proposed in recent legislation. UNFPA is the largest international program devoted to women's health and rights and has been central to efforts to improve the lives of women since its inception in 1969. Similar to reversing the "Global Gag Rule," restoring proper funding to UNFPA, which even the most staunch advocates suggest should only be $60 million a year, would show the world that the U.S. is serious about the rights and livelihoods of women and determined to work with other nations to guarantee them.
Currently the U.S. is the only nation to withhold funding for political reasons.
Follow Deborah Derrick on Twitter: www.twitter.com/theglobalfight