International Women's Day and NGO license trouble: This week in development

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Photo by: Hajiagha Cartoonist / CC BY-NC

Canada celebrates International Women’s Day with a show of support for sexual and reproductive rights, aid groups see their licenses revoked with little explanation, and Devex reports on an ill-prepared health system in Iraq. This week in development:

On International Women’s Day, the development community took stock of an ongoing battle to make gender parity real in development leadership — and gender equality possible in communities around the world. With leadership transitions just completed or still underway for some of the most influential international organizations — including the United Nations, World Health Organization, and Global Fund — scrutiny of the development community’s commitment to appointing women to the industry’s top jobs is greater than ever. At the same time, persistent gaps in protecting women and girls from sexual violence and policies that threaten to roll back sexual and reproductive health access continue to challenge efforts to create a more equal world.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Wednesday — International Women’s Day — a $650 million commitment for sexual and reproductive health and rights. The three-year funding commitment will finance a range of activities, including contraception, reproductive health, legal abortion, sexuality education and advocacy work, the Globe and Mail reported, calling the announcement “a sharp reorientation of Canada’s foreign aid strategy.” Canada’s commitment is the largest of a few recent announcements that either implicitly or explicitly respond to U.S. President Trump’s reinstatement and expansion of policies restricting funding for global health organizations that provide abortions — known as the “global gag rule.” Australia announced $7.3 million in funding for the International Planned Parenthood Foundation last month, and a “She Decides” fund for family planning has raised nearly $200 million from donors including Sweden, Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, Australia, Norway and Luxembourg.

Two major aid organizations — Mercy Corps and Compassion International — have been forced to close operations in countries where they have had longstanding programs. The Colorado-based Christian charity Compassion International will close its offices in India after 48 years, after the government revoked the group’s license to receive foreign donations, claiming it was engaged in religious conversion. The shutdown is part of a broader crackdown by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government against foreign organizations — more than 11,000 NGOs have lost their licenses to receive foreign funding since his administration began in 2014, the New York Times reported.

On Wednesday the Turkish government revoked Mercy Corps’ license to operate in the country, effective immediately. The relief group has been providing “lifesaving assistance to 350,000 to 500,000 innocent civilians in Syria each month,” according to a statement issued after the announcement, which was delivered with little explanation. “We continue to seek a dialogue with Turkish authorities in an effort to obtain permission to resume our operations in Turkey as soon as possible,” the statement read. In response to a question about these announcements, State Department Acting Spokesperson Mark Toner said Wednesday governments should be more “transparent” about such decisions, but did not directly criticize either action.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres plans to roll out new policies to stem persistent problems of sexual abuse committed by U.N. peacekeepers, an issue he pledged to tackle during his campaign for the international body’s leadership role. Guterres’ proposal includes not paying countries that fail to investigate allegations of abuse against their peacekeepers — and to use the money that’s withheld as a trust fund for abuse survivors. Guterres will also release new policies aimed at preventing abuse in the first place, including workplace rules for peacekeepers, such as restrictions on alcohol consumption. The proposals are expected to be released Thursday.

Doctors in Iraq are dealing with what they believe to be the first chemical weapons attack in the effort to retake Mosul from the Islamic State. Reporting from Erbil, Iraq, Devex Associate Editor Elizabeth Dickinson revealed that the Iraqi health system is ill-prepared to deal with attacks of that nature, failing to undertake even the most basic decontamination efforts. Dickinson recounted the experience of one family who suffered from the attack and whose children were then sent back to their contaminated household to bathe, before eventually getting referred to a better equipped hospital in Erbil. Now the government, health NGOs, and international organizations are reconsidering how they can better address the vulnerabilities exposed in the war-torn country’s health system, as the atrocities threaten to continue.

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About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.