The hours are being counted down until the long-awaited G-8 summit lands in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. The last time we welcomed such a meeting to the United Kingdom’s shores in 2005 things were very different. Back then, in times of plenty, the G-8 felt more like a discussion of how to share all the wealth we had amassed. Eight years later, and with an almost complete change of guard in its leadership, a G-8 in times of austerity is a very different prospect. How much can we really expect our leaders to achieve that will have a real impact on the lives of the world’s most disadvantaged people? The mood seems less than optimistic at present.
Amid all the collective speculation about the G-8, the two global development-related themes that seem to be gaining momentum at present are food security and tax evasion. In the U.K. our leaders have — it seems — finally smelt the coffee, and the era where multinationals pay no tax while their independent local competitors are saddled with a monstrous bill appears to be reaching the end. If an age of increased tax revenues is about to start then I hope that the world’s governments will be able to make good use of the new resources they gather, investing them in fields that have the potential to improve the collective well-being of citizens.
With some clever imagery the IF campaign should be commended for its ability to attract the attention of the media and produce a well-packaged and meaningful worthy cause for the public to support. But I hope that this will not detract from the attention that the lower profile and less well-supported areas of development receive. Areas that are just as vital for societies’ long-term well-being in developing countries, such as the rights of women to make an empowered decision about their family size based on their aspirations, their economic means, the public services that are available to them and all that they have learned in school.
Reproductive health and rights — and in particular family planning — are precisely the kind of smart investment that our leaders should be looking at making. For we need the world’s women to enjoy good reproductive health, falling pregnant only when they choose to do so and being able to find education and then decent employment if they want to. Unplanned pregnancies, and their unwanted — sometimes deadly or debilitating — consequences are in nobody’s interests. And preventing them costs far far less than treating them.
Last month I gathered parliamentarians who share this vision from around the world in London, and we agreed that our leaders — from G-8, G-20 and partner countries — must recognize the transformational and cost-effective nature of family planning. Research has shown that each pound spent to increase the current levels of contraceptive coverage would save 40 percent of maternal and newborn healthcare costs. Family planning can therefore provide the solution we need for the task we have at hand in the testing economic circumstances we are working under. We called for “a decade of family planning” in development to follow whatever replaces the Millennium Development Goals and the ICPD Program of Action.
And now, as the G-8 head to Fermanagh, my call goes one step further. At our meeting in London we heard from the architect of the London Family Planning Summit, Andrew Mitchell MP. In July 2012, he and UK Prime Minister David Cameron directed the international community’s attention to this vital issue. I am proud to see that the U.K. is sticking to its commitment to reach its 0.7 percent of GNI target for development assistance. The G-8 and the world as a whole needs this leadership to keep making progress for its poorest people, for in the words of Mitchell: “We must not balance our books on the backs of the world’s poorest.”
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