The President’s Budget: Good on Reproductive Health, Not So Good on Child Marriage

On April 21, the State Department released the full details behind its share of President Obama’s FY2015 budget request.  Called the Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations, Appendix 2—released six weeks after the president’s budget was originally announced on March 4—the State Department’s budget justification demonstrates increased commitment by the Obama Administration to fulfilling U.S. obligations to women around the world by ensuring continued funding for critical women’s health priorities.

The President’s FY2015 request includes a total of $644.3 million for family planning and reproductive health programming—a 6 percent increase over current funding levels and a 9 percent increase over the Administration’s FY2014 request.  This includes $609 million in direct aid to other countries, and just over $35 million for U.S. contributions to the United Nations Population Fund.

If funded by Congress, the President’s request would ensure the continuation of important U.S. government-funded reproductive health services throughout the world.  However, the Guttmacher Institute estimates it would take $8.1 billion to meet global unmet needs for family planning. If the U.S. honors the commitment donors made at the International Conference on Population and Development in 1994 in Cairo to provide one-third of that total, our fair share is around $1 billion. The President’s request falls well short of that figure.

In all, the FY2015 request designates gender as a “foreign assistance priority” and contains $1.8 billion designated for programming on gender equality/women’s empowerment, gender-based violence, and women, peace, and security. Of that, about $140 million is budgeted for preventing and responding to gender-based violence—a significant decrease from FY2014.

And while we are pleased that importance of ending child marriage is highlighted in the President’s budget, we are disappointed that it is only addressed under the heading of ending gender-based violence. We continue to strongly urge the Administration to take a more holistic view of early and forced marriage, and to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to end child marriage as required by law under the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.

Taken in sum, the detailed budget request is a solid baseline for continued progress.  In the coming months, congressional appropriators will write, amend, and vote on a series of government funding bills, including the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. The ball is now in Congress’s court: The President has put forward a budget that largely maintains funding for critical women’s health programs, and now Congress must respond by passing appropriations legislation that recognizes women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights as a critical foreign policy priority.

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