What do the world’s women want?
- Control over their bodies
- Economic autonomy
- Access to health services
- To choose who and when to marry
- To choose if and when to have children
This should not come as a surprise. These are fundamental rights that advocates for gender equality have been working towards for years. At a recent event hosted by the Foreign Policy Association, Francoise Girard, President of the International Women’s Health Coalition, outlined the demands, spoke about what over 600 women’s groups worldwide are doing to make these demands a reality and how large foreign investors need to realign their efforts.
The (IWHC) takes a three-pronged approach that combines global policy promotion, youth leadership/advocacy workshops and partnerships with local women’s organizations. Through partnerships with 80 grassroots countries, IWHC uses the local expertise to inform their global advocacy.
Girard’s talk covered the state of the world as it relates to the Millennium Development Goals and how that has shaped the formation of the soon-to-come Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But what I found most captivating about her presentation was the strikingly honest and positive approach she takes to women and girls’ rights.
Girard explained that the women’s movement is the most organized in getting their demands included in the SDGs. The outlook for women is positive and we are set to have one goal completely dedicated to women with more comprehensive metrics than the Millennium Development Goals provided.
But the United States government could certainly do more to meet the demands of women worldwide. Girard noted that international funding cannot take the place of domestic commitment. However the U.S. spends millions on international investment each year and its policy limitations exclude the most vulnerable women and girls from the services they need.
First, the U.S. government funds abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has been very the AIDS death rate and the number of babies born HIV-free. But through its (Abstinence, Be Faithful, Condom use), the funding only goes to programs that teach abstinence-only-until marriage. Of course, delaying the first sexual encounter will have positive results, but this is not the reality for teenagers and young girls around the world today. Young girls are having sex – by choice and by force – and they need the sexual intelligence to understand when something is wrong and how to take care of their bodies.
Second, the U.S should change its funding policy for abortion in the case of rape or incest. The forbids funding for abortion as family planning, however it needs to explicitly say that the amendment does not apply in cases of rape or incest. Right now the amendment is taken to mean abortion in all instances. When the first sexual experience is forced for , the level of support must increase.
Finally, the new program is a good step in supporting girls’ retention in secondary school. But this program is executed through the U.S. Peace Corps and with less than worldwide, we are only reaching a small fraction of young girls. Additionally, keeping girls in secondary school requires attention to contextual factors such as school fees, early marriage, absence of latrines at school, early pregnancy and the prevalence of sexual harassment by teachers and peers. With a more integrated approach, the Let Girls Learn initiative could yield tremendous results.
“It won’t happen because governments see the light, it will happen because they feel the heat.” – Francoise Girard
Despite the shortcomings of the U.S. government, I left Girard’s speech feeling inspired and confident that women’s demands will be met. For example, thanks to IWHC’s 12-year partnership with Uruguayan organization , Uruguay became the first Spanish-speaking country in South America to legalize abortion in the first trimester.
The women’s empowerment movement is strong and it is founded in local activists and youth leaders fighting for justice. Equality and justice will come when we all want what the world’s women want.