International Development Minister Baroness Sugg last week announced a new UK aid package to prevent women dying from unsafe abortion around the world.
On Thursday 18th July, she wrote in The Telegraph:
Anne* was 14 years old when she was raped walking to visit her grandmother. When she missed her period, she realised she was pregnant. Her grandmother took her to a local herbalist who gave her some herbs to eat. Anne started bleeding heavily.
Luckily a counsellor arrived, explained what was happening and told her grandmother Anne needed to be rushed to a health centre, where her life was saved.
In her village in rural Uganda, this is a common tale. Most girls don’t know what will happen when they take the herbs and communities don’t know there are safer options. But not all girls are as lucky as Anne.
One in three women globally will experience sexual or physical violence. In humanitarian crises, like in the conflict in South Sudan, UK aid research shows this can rise to more than two in three.
Violence against women and girls exists on this horrific scale because harmful attitudes about what it means to be a girl still dominate around the world.
But without equal rights for women, unless women can control their own bodies and decide when, if, and how many children to have, we will not achieve a world where women and girls are safe. We will not stop lives being needlessly lost. And we will not end poverty.
There is still a huge gap between the number of women in developing countries who tell us they want to access contraception and those that can.
Every year around 89 million unintended pregnancies occur in developing countries. So I’m proud UK aid is helping six million couples access to life-saving voluntary contraception in some of the world’s poorest and most marginalised communities across Africa and Asia each year.
But there are people in the world who actively want to control women, who want to restrict their choices and rollback on the progress we have made globally.
Denying women and girls the right to decide what’s right for them is not only morally wrong, it ignores what the evidence tells us saves lives.
A recent Lancet study found stopping funding to organisations offering safe abortion information and services in African countries didn’t stop abortions, it led to an increase. This funding can make the crucial difference between giving women and girls access to safe options or forcing them to resort to unsafe alternatives.
Every year 25 million women and girls will resort to dangerous, painful backstreet abortions like Anne’s which can leave them severely ill, disabled, or cost them their life.
What makes these heart-breaking figures even worse is the fact that these deaths are preventable.
We know that when girls and women can access all the information and safe healthcare services they need, lives are saved and unsafe abortions are prevented. Girls can stay in school longer and achieve more. Women can get jobs and contribute to their economies. Countries prosper.
Today I’m proud to announce a new UK aid package for the Safe Abortion Action Fund. It will give some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable women and girls access to safe abortion.
This fund will help girls like Anne. It will help the girl that doesn’t want to drop out of school and be forced to marry just because she has become pregnant. It will help the survivor of sexual violence who faces stigma and rejection from her community.
It will give urgent care and counselling to women dealing with the life-changing consequences of unsafe abortion and improve their access to contraception and family planning services in the future.
UK aid’s mission is to end poverty. Fighting for gender equality is at the very heart of this mission.
We cannot end poverty without defending women’s rights. Their right to a life without violence, their right to an education and their right to make their own decisions about their own bodies and their own futures.
From violence against women and girls to female genital mutilation, life-saving sex education and safe abortion services, UK aid has not and will not shy away from the difficult issues when the evidence tells us our work save lives.
We will continue to be a progressive force on women and girls’ rights. We will continue to work with our like-minded partners to fight against the attempted global rollback on women’s rights, through our support and our voice on the world stage.
There’s too much at stake if we don’t.
*Anne – not her real name.