Friday, October 17, 2008

USAID playing politics with contraception

Has anyone else noticed this? The US government's international development arm, USAID, has banned aid for contraception and family planning advice in six African countries where Marie Stopes International (MSI) is the main (or only) provider of those services.

The US government has been examining the work of the UN and NGO's in China around family planning and the controversial one child per family policy. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte warned "During the course of our evaluation of UNFPA's work, we learned of other organizations that conduct activities in China. The relevant funding agencies are conducting a comprehensive analysis to determine what appropriate and lawful actions can be taken."

The US has claimed that UNFPA and MSI have taken part in forced abortions and other practices but MSI strenuously, and verifiably, deny this. Add to this that a US fact finding mission said that there was "no evidence that UNFPA has supported or participated in the management of a programme of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization in China."

Despite this Negroponte's "analysis" has led to the US withholding $34 million in aid from UNFPA under a Regan era amendment that, according to the Washington Times, "Only Republican administrations have enforced." This is much needed aid that is directly aimed at women's health and family planning in the developing world.

Dana Hovig, MSI chief executive said that "At a time when world governments have pledged to increase their commitment to improving the health of women, only the Bush Administration could find logic in the idea that they can somehow reduce abortion and promote choice for women in China by causing more abortion and gutting choice for women in Africa."

Whilst MSI receives no funding direct from USAID it does distribute USAID supplied contraceptives in Ghana, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The current supplies will run out in two or three months and these six extremely poor countries have little option but to cease cooperation with MSI or see the aid dry up.

Since this announcement other African countries have also begun to refuse to work with MSI for fear of jeopardising much-needed US funding. The lesson's clear, work with the Chinese Government and the US will make life difficult for you.

International Development is likely to be an area where China and the US clash more and more as China begins to spread its wings in Africa and South America. Proxy battles like this are likely to become more frequent and the main loser will be the most vulnerable.

Green MEP Jean Lambert is a Member of the European Parliament's Working Group on Reproductive Health, HIV/Aids and Development. She said that;

"Marie Stopes International provides vital reproductive health clinics and in some countries they are responsible for delivering a large proportion of family planning services.

"This policy is extremely damaging for the women who rely on a regular supply of contraceptive goods, which are a vital tool in combating the spread of diseases such as HIV/Aids and protect those whose health may be at risk if they become pregnant.

"Punishing African women is not a means to lobby the Chinese Government to change their reproductive health practices. The US expresses concern about coercive abortion in China, yet this policy will leave many African women with predominantly unsafe abortions as their only option. This policy is anti-developmental, jeopardising women's health and reproductive rights."
Without a shred of evidence the US government has put at risk tens of thousands of African women and made the efforts of aid workers more perilous - all the while conducting fake posturing over the rights of women. I don't think we should give any credence to their claims that it's about rights in China when their own investigation showed that neither UNFPA nor MSI have been involved in dodgy practices.

This is about international, imperialist politics and it's the poor who are the first to suffer.

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