Europe alone cannot plug the family planning funding gap — Sweden's Modéer

Ulrika Modéer, Sweden’s state secretary for development cooperation. Photo by: World Resources Institute / CC BY-NC-SA

The international family planning community needs to look beyond the “usual suspects” of the Nordic countries when it comes to filling the funding gap left by the United States’ recent reimposition of the “global gag rule,” a top Swedish development official told Devex.

Ulrika Modéer, Sweden’s state secretary for international development, said it will also take more than actions by the European Union to make up for America’s cessation of family planning funding.

As Devex has reported, President Donald Trump’s reinstatement of the global gag rule — also known as the Mexico City Policy — prevents non-U.S. NGOs that provide services or information relating to abortion from receiving U.S. government funding for any of their work, and it is predicted to affect $8.8 billion in funding. The effects are already being felt on the ground in many countries, including Colombia and Nigeria.

Speaking to Devex during the European Development Days summit in Brussels, Modéer said she was now concerned to see countries backtracking on agreements reached about access to family planning during the 1994 United Nations Conference on Population and Development in Cairo.

“The normative agenda of sexual and reproductive health rights … is being questioned and pushed back … instead of moving forward. We are actually defending the positions we took … in Cairo 20 years ago,” she said.

Earlier this year, Devex reported that Sweden pledged $21 million to the She Decides fund for family planning, which was launched by the Dutch government in January as a reaction against Trump’s reinstatement of the global gag rule. A number of other European and non-European countries are supporting the fund, including Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Iceland, Canada, Luxembourg, Finland, Estonia and Cape Verde.

However, Modéer warned that European countries alone would not be able to reverse the trend. Instead, she called for broader alliances that include countries such as South Africa, Mozambique and some Latin American countries that have progressive policies regarding women’s sexual health and reproductive rights.

“We think it is very important to move beyond the usual suspects — the Nordic countries — and work to create and support alliances all over the world with other proactive countries and actors, both governments and civil society, in the global south,” she said.

Modéer went on to add: “So we need to broaden the alliances and see that there are movements elsewhere and the EU is not the only actor. Indeed, we also need to work within our own union to ensure we make a progressive stand,” she said.

Sweden has a strong record of supporting international development, including family planning. In 2016, it was the third-largest donor in terms of official development assistance in proportion to its economy, spending $4.9 billion, which represented just under 1 percent of its its gross national income.  

About one-third of Sweden’s ODA is disbursed through multilateral organizations, of which a further third is channeled to U.N. agencies.

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About the author

  • Sophie Edwards

    Sophie Edwards is a Reporter for Devex based in London covering global development news including global education, water and sanitation, innovative financing, the environment along with other topics. She has previously worked for NGOs, the World Bank and spent a number of years as a journalist for a regional newspaper in the U.K. She has an MA from the Institute of Development Studies and a BA from Cambridge University.