The COVID-19 pandemic and the related lockdowns have horrifying consequences for people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), with the already vulnerable and marginalized hit hardest. Access to safe abortion disappears when borders close and when health resources are reallocated to areas that are depicted as ‘more important’. The supply of quality contraceptives is unreliable, and the UNFPA predicts that significant levels of lockdown-related disruption over 6 months could leave 47 million women in low- and middle-income countries unable to use modern contraceptives, leading to a projected 7 million additional unintended pregnancies. Finally, the UNFPA predicts that six months of lockdowns could result in an additional 31 million cases of gender-based violence.
In the Danish Family Planning Association, we are working our hardest, together with our partners in the Global South, to protect the rights of women and girls and other vulnerable groups to decide over their own bodies. We closely monitor the development and impact of COVID-19 and forward this information to relevant decision makers in Denmark and to our partners.
The Danish Minister for Development Cooperation, Rasmus Prehn has on numerous occasions reaffirmed that SRHR continues to be a priority on the Danish development agenda, and that Denmark is committed to promote SRHR during this troubled time.
In April 2020, a large majority in the Danish parliament allocated DKK 650 to COVID-19 response activities. Reaching the most vulnerable groups and women is a cross cutting priority. Among several pledges, Denmark allocated 15 million DKK to ensure that UNFPA continues to be able to provide for pregnant women, prevent violence against women and girls as well as child marriages, and secure access to family planning and contraception during the pandemic.
A number of Denmark’s embassies have increased their contributions to organisations working for SRHR in response to COVID-19. In Ethiopia, 10 million DKK has been given to the UNFPA and another 10 million DKK to UN Women. In Kenya, the Embassy allocated an additional million DKK to a rehabilitation center for survivors of gender-based violence. Finally, CSO partners have been given flexibility to readjust their activities to the COVID-19 situation, recognizing their important role in reaching those furthest behind in the COVID-19 response. Finally, Denmark sent a strong diplomatic message, when it was among the 59 signatories to a press statement jointly committing to protecting SRHR and promoting gender-responsiveness in the COVID-19 crisis.
While Denmark is rightfully applauded for its contributions to a rapid COVID-19 development cooperation response, it should be noted that none of the funds mentioned above are ‘new money’, but taken from the cancellation of other projects under the Danish Official Development Assistance (ODA) program. The DFPA has advocated for the Danish government – as a minimum – to fill the gap in actual ODA levels that is left behind when the Gross National Income (GNI) is reduced by the financial recession. Otherwise, there is a risk that the impressive results, including on SRHR and gender equality, which are achieved from decades of Danish ODA, will be wasted.
By Ida Klockmann, DFPA
Photo: IPPF/Zacharias Abubeker/Ethiopia