A Legacy to Build On: the Next Administration Must Keep up the Fight for Women’s Health

This is an exciting and tumultuous moment to be a women’s health advocate in the United States. Domestically and internationally, President Obama has taken huge strides to protect women’s and girls’ health and rights. From repealing the Global Gag Rule, to laying out a strong vision for improving the lives of adolescent girls worldwide, he has shown true leadership.

But President Obama will also leave a lot of unfinished business. The next administration must build on the progress made and prioritize sexual and reproductive health and rights in both domestic and foreign policy.

Here are four goals that should be at the top of the next president’s agenda:

1. Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals at home and abroad

US leadership was important in negotiating the 2030 Agenda: a new development paradigm that includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which all countries are responsible for achieving. Critically, the 2030 Agenda places women’s health and rights at the center of international development and commits to providing universal access to sexual and reproductive health care and protecting reproductive rights. The United States fought hard for this commitment, heeding the call of the global women’s movement. The next president will have to ensure that our country, and others, achieve it. This will require a great deal of political will and the resources needed to transform rhetoric into reality.

2. Putting the health and human rights of young people, particularly adolescent girls, at the center of domestic and foreign policy

President Obama and his administration have shown an unprecedented commitment to improving the lives of young people, and of adolescent girls in particular. The US Agency for International Development’s 2012 Youth in Development Policy launched an effort to address the needs of adolescents and young people in a comprehensive way, recognizing that investing in this group and realizing their human rights will help drive development.

In an even more ambitious move, earlier this year, the US launched its Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls, which is the first comprehensive effort—by any government—to holistically address the challenges girls face. To make sure that girls can live healthy and empowered lives, the Strategy brings together a number of governmental agencies and initiatives, including the DREAMS initiative, aimed at reducing HIV infection in adolescent girls and young women, and Let Girls Learn, which focuses on keeping girls in school. Under the leadership of the next president, the US government must fully fund and implement the Strategy, and explore new ways that the US can actively support the health and rights of girls and young women around the world.

3. Recognizing that sexual rights are human rights

In late 2015, after years of advocacy from IWHC and other civil society groups, the Obama Administration finally announced its support for the use of the term “sexual rights” in international agreements. Sexual rights are a set of human rights that enable all people to have control over and decide about issues related to their sexuality—including whether or not and with whom to have sexual relationships—as well as their sexual orientation and identity. There has been growing international consensus on the term. But US officials immediately blunted the impact of their decision by failing to recognize that sexual rights are human rights. The next administration must fully embrace sexual rights within the human rights framework and actively work to promote the sexual rights of all people—including women, adolescents, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people.

4. Reducing barriers to safe, legal abortion

President Obama leaves a mixed legacy on abortion. Domestically, abortion coverage under Obamacare remains a hotly debated issue, and the president has repeatedly voiced his support for Planned Parenthood in the face of ongoing attacks. But globally, the United States continues to erect barriers between women and abortion services through the Helms Amendment, which prohibits the use of U.S. funding for abortion “as a method of family planning.” President Obama has falsely interpreted this restriction as a blanket ban on funding abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment.

The next president must do more to ensure all women, everywhere, can access safe and legal abortion. Immediately upon taking office, the new president should minimize the damage done by the Helms Amendment by allowing funding for abortion in cases where it is not being used “as a method of family planning,” such as when the women’s life or health is in danger. He or she should then lead efforts to fully repeal Helms and actively work to reduce non-legal barriers to safe abortion, such as stigma and cost.

Over the past eight years, President Obama has pushed the United States forward on sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender equality. On November 8, US voters will chose who will carry that mantle. Our next leader will have the opportunity to build on several years of significant progress and to become a champion of women and girls around the world. More than ever, we need US leadership on women’s health.

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