In 2021, the UK Government is moving to further reduce its aid budget from 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) to 0.5%. Analysis of estimated funding between 2019 and 2022 compared to 2015 to 2018, indicates that gender equality focused programming is severely affected, and women and girls will suffer disproportionately from reductions in funding to critical sectors. The Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO) said these changes are the result of COVID-19’s impact on public finances.
In the Flemish government agreement for 2019-2023, the government is committed to combating sexual and gender based violence, with particular attention for the prevention of forced marriages, honour-related crimes and female genital mutilation. Sexual health should equally receive the needed attention. In Flanders’ international cooperation the government is also quoted as being committed to projects that improve equality between the sexes, with a special focus on women’s education and the promotion of SRHR.
The promise of 0.7%
The new Flemish government will contribute to the realisation of the SDG Agenda 2030 in developing countries. Belgium currently spends only 0.4% of its GNI on development cooperation, despite the legal obligation of 0.7%. In the coming legislature, the Flemish government promises to make further efforts to finally reach the 0.7% standard at Belgian level.
Flanders' bilateral cooperation plans
The Flemish government is to continue its bilateral cooperation with Malawi and Mozambique, whereas cooperation with South Africa will be reoriented from development to “strong political-economic diplomatic cooperation”. The new Flemish Prime Minister Jambon also expressed the intention to set up a new cooperation with one or more countries in the North and East Africa region. The future partner country is said to be selected based on its current cooperation with the EU in the fight against human trafficking and illegal migration. The new government is thus joining the trend of using development cooperation funds for the management of migration flows.
Should we be counting on the private sector?
In addition, the new government is looking at the private sector to step in with development cooperation through public-private partnerships. Public funds are only deemed needed where private partners cannot bear the risk (alone), or when they fail to deliver a suitable solution. The call for private sector support for development should not come at the cost of social sectors, including SRHR, as these are traditionally dependent on ODA support. Mechanisms seeking to mobilise private sector resources are primarily focused on non-social sectors such as infrastructural projects. Moving away from traditional ODA support and towards private sector mechanisms thus brings a real risk of reducing donor investments in sectors such as health, education and SRHR.
Finally, the government sets out to move part of the development cooperation resources towards more Flemish emergency aid. Increasing support for humanitarian aid is welcome, but it should not come at the cost of development cooperation, which could help prevent disasters from happening in the first place.
“In too many contexts, she has actually never decided anything. Telling her that she decides WITHOUT giving her the foundation upon which to do so, could be naïve at best – and irresponsible at worst. We cannot raise expectations of autonomy and agency without providing a foundation for this to actually happen.” Lina Abirafeh, Director of the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World at the Lebanese American University in Lebanon and She Decides Champion’s message was clear. Abirafeh delivered the key note at the She Decides’ anniversary event in the Belgium parliament, which sought to answer the question ‘Can She Decide in times of crisis?’, focusing on women’s and girls’ access to SRHR during humanitarian crises.
The federal development aid for health and reproductive health increased from €141 million in 2015 to €146 million in 2016. The support is still well below the level of 2014 though. €164 million was spent on these sectors in 2014. The total expenditure of the Directorate-General for Development (DGD) increased with 11.8% in 2016. This means the federal government is investing relatively less in development aid for health and reproductive health because the proportion of aid dedicated to these sectors decreased from 14% in 2015 to 12.7% in 2016. Sensoa discussed these results in an analysis of the federal development aid for health and reproductive health.
The Trump-Pence administration has decided to cease all support to the United Nations Population Fund UNFPA. In 2016 only US support to UNFPA helped to prevent 2.340 maternal deaths, 947.000 unplanned pregnancies and 295.000 unsafe abortions. It allowed an estimated 800.000 people to freely decide about their number of children. US support to UNFPA also reached no less than 9 million people in humanitarian emergencies and refugee camps, where the organization provides sexual and reproductive health services and tries to prevent genderbased violence.