Three experts, including Action Canada Executive Director Sandeep Prasad, were invited to take the stage during the 13th International Dialogue on Population and Sustainable Development to discuss potential opportunities and barriers to advancing SRHR through the 2030 development agenda, with particular focus on funding, the indicator process and the review and monitoring mechanism.
The discussion included Thea Christiansen who is Chief Advisor of the Department for Development Policy and Global Cooperation within the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She was joined by Maria Bordallo, a Development and Advocacy Officer at International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), and Sandeep Prasad, Executive Director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights and a member of the High-Level Task Force for ICPD.
Thea Christiansen opened the discussion on a positive note but said the work was far from over. “The 2030 agenda is a huge achievement. This is what we have to maintain in the indicator process,” she said. “The agenda is grounded in the international human rights framework. We have a target on sexual and reproductive health under the health goal and we have very good language under the gender equality goal.”
She highlighted several issues for the room to consider. First, despite improved protection for SRHR, the 2030 agenda still falls short in many areas. “It doesn’t cover all aspects of the ICPD, far from it. There is a risk that we will narrow the SRHR agenda,” she warned.
She also addressed the indicator process which many delegates were identifying as a way to advance the SRHR agenda – an idea she wasn’t entirely convinced would work. “For these issues that didn’t make it to the 2030 agenda, it will be difficult to sneak them in via an indicator.”
However, she did see benefits in keeping up momentum and using every opportunity to set ambitious indicators for SRHR. “At the same time we need to be aware there is heavy opposition,” she stressed. “There is a risk that some see the indicator process as yet another opportunity to water down the agenda.”
Sandeep Prasad underlined the importance of monitoring the implementation of the SDGs despite the drawback that the evaluation process within the framework seems quite weak. “There’s been some disappointment about the emphasis on the voluntary nature of review and reporting. That it would be a state-led process and there was a need to respect policy space. I think that comes out very strongly throughout the 2030 agenda,” he said.
At the same time, Prasad pointed out that the agenda contains a number of positive references, including in the follow-up and review section. Key human rights principles are embodied and follow-up is expected to be open, participatory and transparent for all people. Reporting, he said, “needs to be gender-sensitive, people-centred, and respect human rights with a focus on the most marginalised.”
He also pointed out that the mode of work and organisation of the High Level Political Forum (HLPF), as the main instrument to review the SDGs, is not yet decided upon. Other entities of the UN system, such as the functional commissions of the Economic and Social Council as well as the Human Rights Council could play a role in monitoring the SDGs by linking their review mechanisms to the HLPF.
Maria Bordallo followed with some insights about Official Development Assistance (ODA) which are described in IPPF’s newly-published report ‘Financing Demystified’. She presented findings that there had been a steep increase of ODA for reproductive health since the beginning of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) but said there had been worrying cuts which could undermine this sort of progress in the future.
“The Netherlands just announced cuts in ODA of about a billion, Finland has imminent cuts of 43 percent of their ODA and they’re shifting 100 million US Dollars from grants to business development,” she said. She warned that some of the most important donors for SRHR are shifting their priorities and that the definition of OD A was being expanded to cover environmental issues, security and other areas, which could further undermine efforts.
ODA delivery is also changing, Bordallo explained, with increasing emphasis on providing loans for development. ”IPPF and other stakeholders working on advocacy are very clear on one thing: we still need to prioritise grants over loans,” she asserted. “Loans in principle generate revenue for those that put capital in. We need to be careful with that especially with recurrent costs such as commodities people need year after year. We don’t want to have countries fall into a cycle of debt they can’t get out of.”
Bordallo reported that when funding falls short, women and girls are forced to pay out of pocket for their contraception and other commodities. “If a woman cannot afford this or that intervention it incurs catastrophic expenditures for their families, which pushes them back into the poverty cycle.”
Bordallo introduced the issue of private sector funding, saying that all sources of financing had to be mobilised in order to address the ‘considerable funding gap’. But she also pointed out that in the most recent UNFPA report, private sector funding wasn’t even mentioned because it was so insignificant.
Thea Christiansen agreed that the funds were insignificant, especially in the social sector. But she asked if there might be a problem in the way SRHR advocates look at private sector partners. “We’re perceiving them as just another donor. But there is capacity and opportunity, it lies in the way they work,” she said. She underlined opportunities to build knowledge and competencies and redesign the way SRHR groups organise themselves.
“That is an avenue we’re not always very good at exploring,” Christiansen said. “Private sector partners get annoyed because they feel they have a lot to contribute but the only thing that really counts is if they put dollars on the table. And that may not be the role they see for themselves.”
Bordallo agreed, adding that modes of financing were an issue which needed input and review from everyone in the room. “I’d like to issue a plea for everyone here to keep coming into the finance area without fear. It’s extremely important. We might get the best indicators out there,” she said. “If there is no financing to train medical doctors or to fund contraception in the most hard-to-reach or marginalised communities, the indicators will be very bad.”