Skip to main content

Sexual and reproductive health of women and girls in lower-income countries: is the FCDO doing enough post-pandemic?

8 March 2023

The International Development Committee is to assess whether UK aid spent by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on sexual and reproductive health programmes in lower-income countries could be targeted more effectively.

The new inquiry, launching on International Women’s Day, will consider whether the FCDO’s work has been sufficiently responsive to the needs of these communities. Access to sexual and reproductive health services in lower-income countries was severely disrupted by the covid-19 pandemic.

Scope of the inquiry

Evidence to the Committee suggests that cuts to the UK’s aid budget have had an immediate and significant impact on this area of the FCDO’s work, despite a commitment in the Government’s International Development Strategy (2022) to “drive progress on universal, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights including on the fight to end female genital mutilation and other harmful practices.”

The new inquiry will range across support for the provision and delivery of family planning education, contraceptive supplies and healthcare services to maternity services and support for new-born babies, including preventable deaths. The inquiry will consider whether the FCDO is reaching all communities, including LGBT+ people.

The Committee will also consider the FCDO’s work to support information programmes to tackle abuse that damages the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls, such as female genital mutilation.

Chair's comment

The Chair of the International Committee, Sarah Champion MP, said:

“The impact of cutting access to sexual and reproductive health services for women and their families in lower-income countries is huge. Supporting women and their families to have access to these services saves lives, benefits families and contributes to a community’s social and economic development.

“The Government has committed to provide women and girls with the freedom they need to unlock their potential and support and protect them against violence. It also acknowledges the difficulty of delivering critical comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence support services to many women and girls, especially in conflict contexts.

“We know that this work can make the ultimate difference. We want to examine how the FCDO is meeting its pledges and will evaluate the impact of cuts to the UK’s aid budget in this vital area.”

Inquiry prompted by concerning evidence:

  • Written evidence submitted to Humanitarian crises monitoring: coronavirus in developing countries: secondary impacts stated that the difficulty of providing sexual and reproductive health services to women in lower income countries during the pandemic would translate into 1.5 million unsafe abortions, 900,000 additional unintended pregnancies and 3,100 additional maternal deaths.
  • In Future of UK aid asked which programmes aimed at women and girls will be most affected by cuts to UK aid, the Committee heard how an 85% cut in funding to UNFPA supplies (which provides 40% of the world’s contraception) is estimated to result in nine million women and girls losing access to contraception, which will lead to 8,000 maternal deaths and over four million unplanned pregnancies.
  • In Extreme Poverty and the Sustainable Development Goals: Evidence revealed the impact of extreme poverty on girls in South Sudan, who are more likely to die in childbirth than finish secondary school.

Universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services is one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Submitting written evidence

The committee welcomes evidence to inform its inquiry from a wide range of people. These may include experts, stakeholders, government leaders and officials - but we welcome contributions from anyone with insights. In this instance we will be gathering written information until a deadline of Tuesday 18 April 2023. Please see the call for evidence for the terms of reference.

For information on how to submit written information to us, and how we then use that information, please see here. As well as taking written evidence the committee will hold question and answer sessions. These sessions will take place in public and will be announced in advance on our website.

Further information

Image: Adobe Stock