Sexual & reproductive health in bilateral aid

By Cosmina Marian, IPPF EN

Which European donor countries are going the extra mile to ensure sexual and reproductive health, including family planning, is part of their bilateral aid programmes? There is a lot to learn from a selection of good practices which show how donor countries are trying to translate their sexual and reproductive health commitments into projects and programmes on the ground.

Trends in bilateral, government-to-government, funding for development aid and sexual and reproductive health have been shifting over the past few years.

Several European countries prioritize funding multilateral organizations and initiatives or private sector support, whereas other governments increased their investment in bilateral aid.

It’s a matter of donors deciding who, how and what to fund.

Yet, while many European donor countries are politically committed to the promotion of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) in their cooperation with partner countries, this is not always reflected in the actual expenditures. Why is that? In some instances, it is a question of finding ways to make sure that political good will gets translated into country strategies, programmes and projects.

Some European governments dedicated more resources than others to ensure that their policy priorities and international pledges are well reflected in bilateral programmes.

Sweden is one of the countries which found answers to this challenge. The country has invested in building in-house expertise, offering staff training and means to speak about sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and rights through specialized advisors.

SIDA, the Swedish development agency, also developed the “Dialogue for change”, a set of reference materials that support diplomats and embassy staff in their efforts to include SRH in their dialogues with their counterparts. “Dialogue for change” contains facts, frequently asked questions, speaking points and arguments on specific SRH issues and provides general guidance for policy dialogue.

The Belgian development agency DGD recently took a similar approach. It developed a free e-tutorial on sexual and reproductive health and rights developed. The e-tutorial Body& provides a general introduction to the topic and includes informative modules on family planning and safe deliveries, HIV and STIs, sexual violence and violence against women, vulnerable populations and SRHR policies, as well as a ‘how to’-module.

The e-tutorial is meant for staff working on development cooperation who do not have the expertise in SRHR, but need to address the topic in policy dialogues with partner countries.

The political support of the Belgian Minister for Development Cooperation Alexander De Croo has been critical for the successful roll-out of the e-tutorial, making it known and recommending its uptake.

In the UK, the Department of International Development (DFID) developed a guidance note on sexual and reproductive health in crises used as a practical tool for its staff, and especially for humanitarian advisors. It gives an overview of SRH in emergency settings, including disaster preparedness and resilience, in both acute as well as prolonged crises.

The guidance note aims to bridge the humanitarian-development divide, clarify policy priorities and increase understanding and awareness of SRH in emergencies. Its very existence points to the critical need for SRH during emergencies.

The Netherlands has invested in the monitoring and follow-up of sexual and reproductive health in their bilateral aid. As a leading donor on SRH with many running programmes, verifying the impact of their assistance is key. Which is why the Netherlands developed an indicator framework that allows the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to plan, monitor and evaluate its programmes on SRH and report to parliament and the wider public.

The new Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation and International Trade, Sigrid Kaag, declared that she will continue to use the indicators in the coming years and link them to the Sustainable Development Goals indicators.

Marlies Casier, policy advisor for Sensoa – C2030E Belgian partner – and lead of Countdown 2030 Europe’s work on bilateral aid, says that “through the Countdown 2030 Europe project we seek to encourage donor governments to increase their attention to sexual and reproductive health in their bilateral aid. Bringing good donor practices to the attention of others, is one way to do so. Apart from a focus on training and expertise, we are demanding more transparency in European donor’s bilateral, government-to-government, cooperation and are encouraging the active consultation of civil society actors, both at home and abroad.“

Read similar articles in our newspaper, Her Chronicles.