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Policy Brief n°5: gender equality, development, and sexual and reproductive health and rights

Published 2 September 2019 in Analysis

Tackling gender inequality and promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) have become major issues at the heart of public development aid, both in terms of donor countries, developing country governments, and civil society.

Unlike the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), gender equality is a central pillar of their successor the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with a standalone Goal (Goal 5) and transversal objectives on gender equality throughout the other goals. On a global scale, though is good news that aid labelled by donors as contributing to gender equality (amongst other objectives) has increased five-fold since 2000 to reach 41 billion USD in 2016, it is worth remembering that only 4% of total ODA is exclusively focused on promoting gender equality.

And again, though important progress has been made on gender equality in the last twenty years, there are still huge challenges in particular areas: unmet need for contraception in developing countries is one of them. Sexual and reproductive health and rights however suffer from the additional challenge of donors’ conservative positions on these issues. The USA’s "global gag rule" for example places restrictions on organisations applying for American aid to use funds for providing information on safe and legal abortion.

In France, we can also see a gap between the rhetoric and the reality on SRHR, notably between the official vision of France at the forefront of defending these rights, and the very small amounts which are actually dedicated to SRHR in French aid.

The progress achieved by the MDGs on gender equality between 1990-2015, notably a 44% reduction in maternal mortality (deaths during or shortly after the birth of a baby), mean we can be hopeful about progress on the deeper and broader SDG gender commitments.

That said, nothing can be taken for granted, and women’s rights and empowerment globally are still very much to fight for:

  • Women represent almost 70% of those living with less than a dollar per day, and they are also make up 2/3 of all illiterate adults.
  • The lack of family planning and contraceptive services results each year in 89 million unwanted pregnancies almost a quarter of which (25million) end in high-risk abortions which end in the deaths of some 50,000 women each year.
  • There are still 303,000 maternal deaths each year, or 830 every day, caused by complications during or shortly after pregnancy or childbirth. 99% of these are in developing countries.
  • 1 girl in 5 is married before she is 18 across the planet. In developing countries, this percentage rises to 40%.

You can download our Policy Note n°5 in French here. An English translation is forthcoming.

Documents to download

Note d’analyse n°5 : inégalités de genre, droits sexuels et santé reproductive, et développement