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Women and girls, every day

Women and girls, every day.

Volunteer Service Abroad CEO Gill Greer writes to mark International Women's Day.

Today is International Women's Day - and while there are reasons to celebrate, the World Economic Forum has estimated that the global inequalities between women and men in education, health, income and more, will not be closed until 2186.

One hundred and sixty-nine years is a long time to wait. And it will not come any sooner as long as women and girls are unable to access the basic health services they want or are denied the right to have children by choice not chance. The USA’s reinstatement of the "global gag" rule means that many health and counselling services that health care organisations offer around the world will now be denied to millions of women and girls.

These include public health campaigns, sexuality and life skills education, education in nutrition, access to contraceptives, treatment for sexually transmitted infections, antenatal care, safe birth and delivery services, vaccination programmes and more. Once again millions of women and girls will be denied both voice and choice. Once again it is assumed that every act of sex is wanted, even when a girl or a woman says no, that every pregnancy is intended, even though many women will want more for their children rather than more children.

In my previous role as head of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, working in 170 countries, I saw first-hand what that lack of funding meant for women and girls when this rule was last in place: it cost countless lives. Now at least US$600 million will be withdrawn from organisations that provide vital sexual health and relationship services for women and girls, and men and boys will of course be affected too by the cuts in services and clinics. This affects organisations VSA works with in the Pacific, supporting women who are simply looking for opportunities that are everyone’s right. The opportunity to be safe and healthy, to choose the number and spacing of their children, the right to earn a living and to be equal. People around the world are stepping up to fill this funding gap - governments, businesses and individuals pledging to ensure women and girls are not left behind once more.

VSA is no different. For decades, we worked with people in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Today we focus on the wider Pacific. Our volunteers contribute in health and education; in reducing violence against women and girls; in agriculture; in supporting women’s greater participation in decision making; in business and employment, and recently in mitigating the impact of climate change on their lives and on future generations. At this time of global volatility and disorder, and in our region which has the greatest risk of natural disaster, the threat of increased inequality for women is greater today than many would have predicted even three years ago.

In the Pacific the impact of inequality on girls and women is a daily reality, preventing them from reaching their full potential. But when girls and women are able to bridge the inequality gap, they will, one by one, lift their families and communities out of poverty and drive long-lasting development - across nations and across the region.

ENDS


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