(Sydney, July 10, 2017) – The Australian government should meet its financial commitments for sexual and reproductive health at the Family Planning 2020 Summit in London on July 11, 2017, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. At the summit, more than 36 governments will review progress on the goal to enable 120 million more women worldwide to access a modern form of contraception by 2020.

In 2012 Australia pledged to double funding for family planning services to A$53 million (US$40 million) a year, but instead its assistance declined to A$24 million (US$18 million) in FY2016. Using the international methodology agreed at the 2012 London Family Planning Summit, Bishop has repeatedly expressed Australia’s commitment to women’s rights, and a goal that 80 percent of Australia’s aid budget address “gender equality and women’s issues and their empowerment.”

“Foreign Minister Bishop wants to make women’s rights part of her legacy, but instead Australia has fallen far short of the commitments it made to women,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “The London summit is an opportunity for Australia to live up to promises made on women’s rights and assert its leadership on women’s sexual and reproductive health.”

Australia’s ambassador for women and girls, Sharman Stone, will represent Australia at the summit, which is being hosted by the United Kingdom, the United Nations Population Fund, and the Gates Foundation.

Newly released estimates show that 214 million women in developing countries who wish to avoid pregnancy have an unmet need for modern contraception. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the second leading cause of death for adolescents ages 15 to 19 globally and cause more than 800 women and girls to die each day. The World Health Organization estimates that at least 22,000 women die from abortion-related complications each year.

Australia has long shown a commitment to sexual and reproductive health, particularly in humanitarian settings, which will be a priority topic at the summit. Humanitarian interventions have often overlooked access to sexual and reproductive health services, even though this is often when women and girls need these services the most.

The global goal to increase access to family planning may be undermined by new funding restrictions in the United States. In January, US President Donald Trump reinstated and dramatically expanded the Mexico City Policy or "Global Gag Rule." The rule strips foreign nongovernmental organizations of all US health funding if they use funds from any source to offer information about abortions, provide abortions, or advocate to liberalize abortion laws. 

This policy will restrict US$8.8 billion of US health assistance. Some of the organizations affected by the police will lose funds and likely have to cut services and staff, contributing to more unplanned pregnancies, more unsafe abortions, and preventable maternal deaths.

“Family planning saves lives,” Pearson said. “Australia should honor its pledge to help support the millions of women seeking to live their lives with dignity and control over their fertility.”