Worldwide campaign on abortion raises $300m, UCL Lancet lecture told
21 November 2017
The Dutch MP leading the worldwide campaign against Donald Trump's funding ban on abortion advice revealed at the UCL Lancet lecture last night that it has so far raised $300m.
This includes up to $100m from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and an anonymous US donor.
Lilianne Ploumen, the former Dutch development co-operation minister, only launched the She Decides campaign in January to counter Trump's withdrawal of funding from NGOs that perform abortions or provide information on the procedure. It is estimated it will leave a $600m a year shortfall worldwide.
She said the response to the campaign had been "amazing," adding: "It was as if people were waiting to rise against the conservative tide…it was an outpouring of relief and hope."
In a passionate explanation of why she took up the campaign on women's sexual and reproductive rights, she highlighted a series of damning statistics on the state of women's rights around the world including that one in three women still experience sexual or physical violence and 46 out of 173 countries don't have laws on domestic violence.
She revealed that she was also now campaigning for a new law in Holland to outlaw unequal pay. "I am drawing up a new law to make unequal pay a criminal act," said Ploumen, who is basing it on proposed legislation in Iceland where all public and private businesses will be required to prove they offer equal pay to employees. Those that fail to show in audits that they have fair pay face fines.
She said only three countries - Colombia, St Lucia and Jamaica - had women in half or more of their managerial positions compared with the average around the world of 20% to 40%. Economists suggested that if there was gender parity, it could add $12 trillion to the world's GDP, she said.
There were also economic benefits to effective sexual health and contraceptive programmes in reducing teenage pregnancies and girls' school drop-out rates. "Every additional year of a schooling increases a girl's future earnings by 10% to 20%," said Ploumen.
"Access to birth control means fewer teenage pregnancies, fewer school drop outs, fewer abortions, fewer maternal deaths, lower overall health costs and more productive years for women…so investing in sexual and reproductive rights has one of the best business cases you can have."
There was also the moral case that "women's rights were human rights" which was why she was "appalled" when Trump announced the withdrawal of development funding from international organisations that discuss abortion as a family planning option with clients.
"Over the past several decades we have seen family planning yielding positive results providing women with contraception and information averting millions of unwanted pregnancies," said Ploumen.
It had also reduced maternal death rates in countries such as Kenya by doctors and nurses ensuring that if women or girls had to have abortions they were done safely and that they were provided with advice on contraceptives so that they could avoid another unwanted pregnancy.
"Taking away that funding simply means millions of women and girls will be faced with unintended pregnancies and many will be forced to have unsafe abortions," she said. Some estimates suggested that as many as 3.1m abortions and 7.4m unintended pregnancies are averted by the $600m of aid.
She Decides has attracted worldwide support from governments, individuals and more than 200 NGOs which have signed a petition backing the campaign.
Despite her warnings over the state of women's rights worldwide, Ploumen said much had been achieved for women of which she herself was an example. She came from a "modest" background with parents who were farmers who only went to school for six years before starting work.
She was the first girl in her family to go to university, then worked as a community outreach worker before entering politics and rising to become chair of Netherlands' Labour Party. "My parents encouraged us to [go to university]. They said: 'Your time is now. Go for it."
The UCL lecture was hosted at UCL Institute of Education and opened by President and Provost Professor Michael Arthur before an introduction by Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet.
Professor Sarah Hawkes, Director of UCL Centre for Gender and Global Health, responded to Ploumen's lecture before the session was closed by Professor Ibrahim Abubakar, Director UCL's Institute for Global Health, who recalled being brought up in northern Nigeria where he saw first hand the loss of talent by girls being denied an education.
- Lilianne Ploumen (Credit: Kirsten Holst)