What price can you put on the life of a girl?
Yesterday, the Trump administration put politics over facts — as well as women’s health — when it issued a negative Kemp-Kasten Amendment determination on the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), paving the way to cut U.S. funding to the vital UN agency. The Amendment itself is intended to prevent coercive reproductive health care practices, a goal all human rights defenders should share. However, it has instead been incorrectly invoked under the current, as well as in former anti-women’s health administrations, to eliminate U.S. funding to UNFPA and thereby undermine access to voluntary family planning, maternal health, and gender equity programs around the world.
This devastating move follows another extreme effort by this administration: a proposal to slash funding for some of the most vital programs affecting girls around the world. The “skinny budget” is the nickname for the president's budget blueprint proposed a few weeks ago, which would cut funding for the State Department by 37%. So severe a cut would undermine and devastate global health programs and put millions of already vulnerable women and girls around the world at even greater risk.
Said more simply, time and again the president has shown that he does not value the lives of girls.
Compare this skinny budget to a recent report by the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), which proposes a girls initiative focused on “unlocking the potential of adolescent girls and young women” by focusing on key health interventions such as improving maternal and newborn health, increasing access to voluntary family planning, and expanding access to the HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer.
If the choice between these two plans seem like a no-brainer, that’s because it is. The girls initiative is popular and supported by members of Congress from both sides of the political aisle. Like the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) initiative, from the Bush administration, the girls initiative is an opportunity for political leaders of the major parties to work together for a cause they can both get behind.
More importantly, the CSIS global health initiative can really work to improve the lives of women, girls, and families. The CSIS report was authored by an esteemed panel of experts including leaders in global health and the private sector. Focusing on adolescent girls in 13 countries, the initiative calls for substantial new funding and an investment in family planning, maternal and child health, and beyond.
“Promoting the health of women and girls is one of the most effective ways to save lives and protect families in developing countries,” says Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who is a signatory of the report.
“If we succeed, it would also lead to more stable societies and improve our own national security, which are goals shared by Republicans and Democrats alike,” she adds.
In contrast, the Trump administration’s so-called blueprint, its most recent action to “defund” UNFPA, and the expansion of the global gag rule signed on his first Monday in office have one aim: to gain political points at the expense of women and girls. The budget proposal cuts funding for programs that serve people in most critical need of support and it harms the United States’ relationships with the international community. These proposed cuts create less economic and political stability, which ultimately make all of us less safe. It’s a blueprint wholly out of touch with what security, health, and policy experts recommend, and its dissonance with the CSIS initiative is just one of many dissonances.
Although conversations on budgets may be wonky, they represent a very real appraisal of what’s important to us – a valuation of our values. That’s what at stake here in the conversation over the administration’s budget blueprint: our values as humans, as Americans. Again I ask, what price can you put on the life of a girl?
Chloë Cooney is the Director of Global Advocacy at Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Global. In this capacity for seven years, she has launched and now leads advocacy efforts on U.S. leadership in international reproductive health and rights, linking the work in Washington, D.C. to advocacy work in Africa and Latin America. Previously Chloë served as Vice President at the Endeavor Group, a strategic consulting firm specializing in high-impact philanthropy, where she led the global health philanthropy practice. Chloë also worked with the Global Business Coalition doing work on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.