Finland’s commitment to FP/RH in development under threat

Finland‘s government is currently examining a Programme containing plans to cut funding allocated to development cooperation by over €200 million in early 2016. The Programme will reduce the total amount of development cooperation funding from €1.01 billion in 2015 to €743.6 million in 2016. It also mentions a preference for channeling a larger share of this funding through loans and corporate social responsibility mechanisms rather than grants, in an attempt to boost private sector engagement in development. All in all, all programmes and instruments for development cooperation will see their budgets cut by 30-40%.

This is a worrying policy development and Finnish civil society organizations have expressed major concerns regarding the government’s budget choices . Although women and girls have been listed by Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Lenita Toivakka as among the priorities for Finnish development cooperation in the coming years, it is unclear at the moment how the cuts will affect efforts to empower women and girls worldwide.

Family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) programmes are a smart investment for development cooperation. Promoting them is critical to achieving global health and sustainable development. However, ensuring long-term impact requires financial and human commitments. This latest announcement from Finland, which has in the last years reiterated a commitment to gender equality, family planning and reproductive health, seems to indicate that these commitments remain fragile and uncertain.

Ms Toivakka indicates that Finland will not discontinue funding to UN Women, UNFPA and UNICEF. This is a positive point, but it does not give any reassurance about the funding that will be available to civil society organizations and women’s organizations, which are particularly instrumental in ensuring access to life-saving FP/RH services.

Countdown 2015 Europe’s Finnish partner Väestöliitto (the Family Federation of Finland), as well as the Finnish All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population and Development, have done rigorous advocacy work towards the new Minister for Foreign Trade and Development in order to ensure that FP/RH remain a priority in Finnish development policy and that they are strongly positioned in the work done for girls and women in development policy and development cooperation.

In Finland, civil society organizations have started a Twitter campaign to hold the government accountable in this context of budget cuts, using the hashtag #eiköyhimmiltä (“not from the poorest”) to denounce this political decision to reduce funding that benefits the poorest and most marginalised groups. Countdown 2015 Europe will remain vigilant as to what these cuts will mean for FP/RH programmes and activities.

To find out more, read this update from Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs.