New Report Finds Sexual And Reproductive Health And Rights Are Key To Gender Equality And Women’s Empowerment, And Calls On U.s. To Triple SRHR Funding And Address Current Restrictive Policies

On International Women’s Day on March 8, and in anticipation of the White House releasing President Biden’s proposed FY2024 budget on March 9, the Population Institute has published a new report showing why the U.S. should increase its financial and policy support for sexual health and reproductive rights (SRHR) around the world. The Population Institute is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC which advocates for gender equality and universal access to sexual and reproductive health services.

The report, Connecting the Dots: Sexual and reproductive health and rights as prerequisites for global gender equality and empowerment,articulates the key role of U.S. funding and policy in advancing rights and promoting health and wellness of women and girls. The report compiles current, sourced research and analysis on necessary funding components and policy steps to advance SRHR and gender equality and empowerment.

“Connecting the Dots” calls on the U.S. to nearly triple its allocations for bilateral family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) programs, as well as its core contribution to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), from a total of $607.5 million, unchanged over the last decade, to $1.736 billion, including $116 million for UNFPA. That’s the total amount estimated by the SRHR group, PAI, to a fair-share level of U.S. investment that would close the gap for the nearly 218 million women of reproductive age who have an unmet need for modern contraception in the Global South. This investment in the SRHR agenda would enable meaningful progress toward gender equality and empowerment worldwide, with the caveat that the current FP/RH programming and funding do not address to the full spectrum of SRHR issues and needs, and that additional programming and funding are needed. 

“Now is an opportune time to invest,” the report concludes. “Today there are 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10-24 – the largest generation of youth in history…. [It’s] critical…to keep pace with the SRH needs of this generation. But it will take a commitment from the U.S. to reestablish its leadership on global SRHR through robust investment – both financially and politically.”

“This is an important time for the U.S. to increase its investment in the SRHR agenda,” Kathleen Mogelgaard, Population Institute’s president. “The world’s population recently surpassed 8 billion people, reminding us that the scale of human needs will only continue to grow. U.S. investment in international family planning has stagnated amidst these growing needs, leaving millions behind.”

Gender equality and women’s empowerment are non-partisan, widely agreed goals. Making progress on them requires not only funding, but unequivocal support and commitment to SRHR as a prerequisite and an integral part of a broader agenda for gender equality and empowerment, including women’s and girls’ health; freedom from violence; and equal participation in education, the workforce, and politics. These issues require a holistic approach and an understanding that they are inextricably linked to SRHR.

“Channeling funding to improve gender equality and women’s empowerment without connecting the dots between women’s access to SRHR and their subsequent ability to participate in education, the workforce and political decision-making will inevitably weaken these efforts,” the report argues, proceeding to lay out specific policy steps needed to enable progress.

“It is critical that policymakers shift their mindsets from seeing SRHR as a siloed and contentious public health issue to seeing it as a prerequisite for advancing gender equality and empowerment,” said Bridget Kelly, Population Institute’s director of research for SRHR and one of four co-authors of the report. “Making progress is going to take a holistic understanding and approach, where SRHR is an integral part of the broader agenda. Policymakers determining U.S. foreign assistance priorities need to understand how gender equality and empowerment objectives are impacted by access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services.”