Four years ago, on January 23, 2017, in a room filled only with men, US President of three days, Donald J. Trump reinstated the “Global Gag Rule”, more formally known as the Mexico City Policy, to restrict women’s lives and deny them the freedom of choice over their own bodies. Trump did not invent this regressive policy. President Ronald Reagan first enacted it in 1984, and every Republican president since has enacted or expanded this policy, with each Democrat revoking the policy, turning women’s bodies into political pawns between parties.
The Global Gag Rule strips organizations of their ability to provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care by gagging these groups in terms of the health care options and services they can even discuss; with the potential punishment of lost funding. This is a major blow, from the world’s largest donor to global health programs.
Trump not only reinstated the Global Gag Rule, he expanded it to impact recipients of over 12 billion dollars — from HIV and AIDS programming to water and hygiene programs and more. These critical, lifesaving interventions have been stripped away by Trump with total impunity. In 2019, he once again expanded the rule, further restricting those previously-gagged organizations from funding groups that provide abortion services and information — even if they are not recipients of US funding. In effect, the rule gags everything to do with women, their equality and empowerment.
But the Global Gag Rule doesn’t just impact women. Yes, women — particularly those already poor and marginalized — suffer most, but also anyone receiving support through HIV and AIDS programming, LGBTQIA populations, young people, and many others. The organizations that support these populations were already underfunded prior to this. Now they are suffering further — particularly those which bravely elected to continue providing vital sexual and reproductive health services. The Global Gag rule made an already-critical situation far worse, with farther-reaching impacts. Such damage will take years to undo because, for four years, women — and the organizations that support them — have been gagged.
It was under these conditions that SheDecides came together and grew into a global movement, taking women’s voices, girls voices, and those of marginalized communities around the world, and channeling these into change. SheDecides exists to fight for the rights of women and girls to decide freely for themselves — a fundamental human right to which we are all entitled.
Women’s health is under serious threat. The Coronavirus pandemic has put women’s and girls’ already fragile rights even further at risk, only magnifying the damage done over the last 4 years. The crisis has unveiled existing injustices, exacerbating these, and impacted hard-won gains for bodily autonomy. Add to this the global challenges of the last four years — in particular the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has further weakened this landscape, fracturing civil society and compromising services. It has added layers of challenges including further restrictions on funding for critical services and support, and limited mobility to access those services. Many shelters and safe spaces for women have been repurposed as pandemic support centers. And — most alarmingly — rates of intimate partner violence have increased worldwide.
Today, we will witness the inauguration of the Biden-Harris Administration, unprecedented in many ways, and finally the first-ever woman in the position of Vice President. This team will have their hands full simply cleaning up the messes left by the previous administration — for women and girls, and for the world.
The Biden Agenda for Women is a comprehensive platform for women’s rights addressing health care, economic security, work and family, and violence against women. The new US administration brings hope that the repeal of the Global Gag Rule will renew efforts to advance bodily autonomy to undo the harm of the past four years, empowering women worldwide.
While the Biden-Harris Administration has committed to supporting sexual reproductive health and rights and advancing women’s bodily autonomy both domestically and internationally, it must be an international effort. Once the Global Gag Rule is repealed, it will take years to rebuild trust, re-integrate services and spread accurate information on what is allowed under the law. True global cooperation and action will be needed to undo the damage and ensure women have the choices they have long been denied.
The new administration offers hope that the Global Health, Empowerment and Rights (HER) Act, introduced in Congress in 2019, will receive increased political support. The Global HER Act would end the Global Gag Rule once and for all, preventing future presidents from unilaterally reinstating it and putting the lives of millions of women and girls at risk.
Most importantly, this means that essential funding for women and girls’ health is not politicized and restricted. And that women’s bodies and lives are not subject to the whims of political parties, religious perspectives, social decrees, or any opinion. Except their own.
Women’s bodies and lives are their non-negotiable, undeniable right.
The hard work starts now.