Cut the strings: bodily autonomy needs sustainable funding

One of the first actions of the new United States administration was the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy (also referred to as the Global Gag Rule). It forbids international recipients of U.S. federal funding from providing any abortion-related services, including counselling or information on where to access services.

The Global Gag Rule, first enacted by Ronald Reagan’s administration, is a political game of back and forth between Republicans and Democrats, with Republicans reinstating the policy and Democrats rescinding it, depending on who holds presidential power. Once again, women and feminized bodies, as well as the bodies of people socialized as women, are treated as disposable bargaining chips in the political game behind the Global Gag Rule. Their livelihood, bodily integrity and well-being are among the first to be compromised in the tides of mainstream and governmental politics.

Funding from a single government can deeply affect the agency of thousands of women around the world over their bodies. This is also telling of the entrenched economic inequalities that are rooted in colonial histories and maintained through imperialism and neoliberalism.

Many countries in the Global South have been gradually forced to transform their economies to adapt to policies through structural adjustment programs, loans and increasing debts to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Meanwhile, the U.S remains free of these restrictions thanks to state bonds and control of the monetary sources.1 In return, the U.S provides many countries with supposedly charitable “aid” that is burdened with conditions. U.S federal funding can act as a neocolonial, neoliberal endeavor that secures U.S interests and agendas with the civil society of Global South countries.2

Today, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden are co-hosting the She Decides Summit  to mobilize funds as a counter to Trump’s attack on women’s rights and bodily integrity. We welcome these efforts, and call for further countries, such as the UK, to commit significant funds to fill the enormous funding vacuum that will be left by the current U.S. administration’s Global Gag Rule. The initiative give us hope for a more balanced approach to foreign aid.       

However, the deep-seated problem of unaddressed inequalities persists, with or without the Global Gag Rule and anything set up to fill the gap it leaves. The struggle to address North and South dynamics emerging from a long history of imperialism remains. So, what is really needed now is accountability for the long fought goal of inclusive sustainable development, for addressing the deep inequalities that exist within and across countries, and the realization of sexual and reproductive rights across the world. To improve the lives and wellbeing of women and girls in all their diversity, there needs to be consistent and sufficient funding and long-term political will. A sustainable funding stream that supports the realization of women’s rights is what we are asking for. We want to see the day where our bodies are no longer used as bargaining chips.

While the need for resources is necessary within the confines of the current capitalist system, financial sources are as political as the work being done, especially when these sources are one of the roots of the problems women face around the world. Foreign funds come with strings attached, add to the hierarchy among countries, have multiple and complex implications and can have a deleterious impact in our national policies including blocking the possibility of progressive legal changes that could come from within. We need to be more critical about funding sources and their implications for women’s human rights and justice  in the long run.

We are in solidarity with the organizations that are and will be affected by the Mexico City Policy during this US administration’s mandate. We call on governments from the Global South to provide, support and fund access to safe abortion services, the full range of contraceptive options, comprehensive sexuality education and non-discriminatory HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support services both within our countries and abroad. We appreciate the efforts of the She Decides Fund to counter the damage that the Global Gag Rule can make. But, we also call on activists and organizers from around the globe to keep mobilizing local resources and continue to hold their own governments to account.

Most importantly, we will continue to work for change and demand justice for all people around the world that lack the adequate access to the quality health services they need, want and are entitled to. We will keep working to make this world a more just one for all, especially for women, girls, trans people and gender nonconforming folks in all their diversity.

1 David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism