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.
The Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released its early figures for development assistance spending across donor countries in 2020. These figures offer the first tangible evidence of the global pandemic’s impact on EU development aid spending. In absolute terms, EU 2020 aid increased by 7.8% (72.7 billion USD) compared to 2019. However, this rise is mainly the result of a fall in Gross National Income (GNI) prompted by the global pandemic. For the nineteen DAC EU Member States, this represented 0.5% of their ODA/GNI ratio – still far below the longstanding international commitment of 0.7%. The EU institutions’ ODA rose by 25.4% in real terms.
Sensoa International's annual audit of the expenditures by the Belgian Directorate General for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid (DGD) shows that spending on health and reproductive health in 2019 was at its lowest level in four years. DGD spent a total of 11.08% of its budget on health and reproductive health in 2019, whereas support halted at 13.29% in 2017 and 12.84% in 2016.
Particularly worrying is DGD's declining support for HIV prevention and treatment, for which the budget was cut in half during the previous government term. Support has been falling since 2017, with substantially less attention for HIV in Belgium’s bilateral cooperation and less support for multilateral organisations that take the lead in the global 'HIV response', such as UNAIDS and the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM). Multilateral support did increase in 2019, but not enough to turn the tide.
The policy declaration and note of new Minister for Development Cooperation Meryame Kitir builds on the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis demonstrates the importance of strong public sectors, such as health care, education and social protection.
ODA makes up a crucial lever to ensure sustainable recovery, so the declaration reads. The Belgian government has committed to a growth path to reach 0.7% by 2030.
The crisis affects every country, every individual person, but we still need to guarantee a global approach. More than ever, this crisis demonstrates how our lives are interconnected. In other words, a solidary, joint response will be necessary.
Sensoa International works with other organisations, including umbrella organisation IPPF, Belgian health and development organisations to steer the policy of Belgium, other EU member states and partner countries. We inform policymakers and advocate to safeguard sexual and reproductive rights, also in times of Covid-19.
The weakness of healthcare structures in developing countries will now become painfully clear and be a major threat to the global spread of the virus. Together with its partners, Sensoa International is therefore focusing on the importance of strengthening health systems, ensuring the continuity of care, and the promotion of universal healthcare coverage, which should include sexual and reproductive health services and family planning.
Sensoa International advocates to keep up and increase the necessary financial support. Existing official development assistance (ODA) should not be diverted to tackle the current crisis, as this creates new problems. Instead, new funds should be set up to counter the spread of Covid-19 and to address the large-scale side effects of the approach in a spirit of solidarity.
Measures to deal with the pandemic should not result in restrictions of human rights, democracy and the critical role of civil society and media. Jointly with our civil society partners in Belgium and abroad, we are watching and alerting policy makers when human rights, and particularly sexual and reproductive rights are at risk.
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.
Despite the international backlash against SRHR and an increasing anti-women’s rights sentiment entering our decision-making spaces both in Europe and across the Atlantic, the past year saw financial and political commitments solidified and support for SRHR championed by European donor countries in many global fora, including Belgium.
Ottawa, 23 October 2018 – More than 90 parliamentarians from over 70 countries have agreed on a forward-looking declaration that aims to foster understanding of, and consensus around, the urgency to address the current political discourse on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Jean-Jacques Flahaux (MR) and Petra de Sutter (Groen), members of the Belgian all-party parliamentary group, ‘Parliamentarians for the 2030 Agenda’, participated in the conference.
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.
On the 18th of July 2017, Belgium presented its first Voluntary National Review on how it is implementing the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development at the United Nations’ High Level Political Forum.