For better or worse, the U.S. has an outsized influence in the world. Those of us who have worked for years to help shape U.S. foreign policy to be a force multiplier for gender equality and sexual and reproductive health, rights and justice (SRHRJ) globally recognize that the current U.S. Administration and Congress have given advocates an opening that we have not seen before, and momentum is building.

Primarily, this is the first time in my more than 20 years advocating for gender equality and SRHRJ that there are so many people in power representing a diverse range of lived…


The 2020 U.S. Presidential election was historic — in the levels of voters turning out the polls and making their voices heard; in the election of Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris as the first woman, first Black, and first South Asian Vice President in our country’s history; and in the opportunity we have ahead of us to restore the U.S. as a leader on the world stage, including as a champion for the health, rights, and autonomy of people around the world.

For nearly four years, the Trump-Pence Administration has left no stone unturned in its effort to restrict sexual and…


A garment worker at Hela Clothing in Kenya, which provides health and well-being services to its female workers. © Universal Access Project

As COVID-19 continues to surge globally, communities and countries are facing the very real health, social, and economic impacts of the pandemic, and entire industries are being upended in ways we’ve never seen before. But girls and women — the backbone of the current and future global workforce — are disproportionately at risk. Companies must respond to the health and well-being needs of their female workforces, and many are committed to taking that responsibility.

Before COVID-19 hit, women in low-resource countries had been entering the formal workforce at unprecedented rates, particularly in the apparel and agriculture sectors. Women make up…


While the world is focused on battling the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, and as the U.S. has a necessary — and long overdue — national conversation on racial justice and systemic racism, it seems that our newsfeeds are overflowing with the latest data, headlines, and developments. But even as these priorities have rightfully dominated our collective consciousness, the current U.S. Administration has continued its long-standing effort to roll back fundamental human rights — including sexual and reproductive rights.

In the past four years, the Administration has pulled out every stop, from stripping down its annual human rights report to exclude the…


In any context, human rights violations undercut the dignity, health, stability, and prosperity of individuals, communities, and entire countries. They are denounced by international human rights treaties and the governments that ratified them. But what about those violations that, while being opposed on a global stage, are sanctioned by parents, guardians, religious leaders, communities, customs, societal norms, or long-standing traditions?

In its 2020 State of World Population Report, Against My Will, UNFPA — the UN agency dedicated to reproductive health — examines the prevalence, roots, and drivers of three of 19 harmful practices defined under international human rights treaties: female…


COVID-19 emergency response activities 5 April 2020 — Bangladesh. © UNDP Bangladesh/Fahad Kaizer

An estimated four billion people globally have sheltered in place to halt the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic — an essential protective measure to flatten the curve of the virus and ease the burden on our health care systems and front line workers. For many, staying at home and physically distanced from our loved ones is challenging. But for some, it is dangerous.

One of the most pervasive and insidious forms of violence — that against girls and women — is now on the rise in what the UN has deemed a “shadow pandemic.” Confinement with abusers, increased fear and…


Long before COVID-19 emerged as a global pandemic, the U.S. Administration had been chipping away at its role as a leader in global health, in particular, in sexual and reproductive health. From the reinstatement and unprecedented expansion of the Global Gag Rule, to the short-sighted and harmful decision to eliminate significant U.S. funding for UNFPA, the UN agency dedicated to reproductive health, years-long efforts to restrict health access and rights have crippled some of the most effective global health actors that are now under unprecedented strain in the midst of the pandemic.

Significant damage has already been done, but it…


COVID-19 emergency response activities 5 April 2020 — Bangladesh. © UNDP Bangladesh/Fahad Kaizer

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages, it’s clear we are in the midst a crisis that we have not experienced in our lifetime. It’s upending our health, our economy, and our daily lives. But as I face the challenge of adapting myself and my family to this “new normal,” I imagine the complexities this pandemic will pose for people in the midst of existing humanitarian crises — those who have already had to adapt to a new normal, perhaps many times over.

Even before COVID-19 emerged, the world was facing humanitarian crises in every corner of the globe, with an estimated…


In February, UNFPA delivered essential hygiene and medical supplies to support frontline health workers and their patients in Hubei Province, China. UNFPA is one of many UN agencies working to support outbreak mitigation efforts around the world. © UNFPA

We are living in a new reality. As the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, sweeps through the world in what the World Health Organization (WHO) has categorized as a pandemic, health systems are racing to keep respond and countries and communities are taking unprecedented measures to contain the spread of the virus. The WHO is leading the global effort to detect, prevent, and respond to the pandemic, helping countries — especially those most at risk — prepare with essential supplies, guidance, and data, while helping accelerate worldwide efforts to develop vaccines, tests, and treatments.

While this pandemic affects us all, girls and…


One month into a new year, and a new decade, I find myself reflecting on the current state of global sexual and reproductive health and rights: Where have we come from? What challenges are we facing? And what is the path forward?

We are at a unique moment in time: We’ve just marked the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, when for the first time the majority of the world’s governments answered the call of activists and put individual reproductive health and rights at the center of global development. We’re now entering the 25th…

Seema Jalan

Executive Director, Universal Access Project — striving for a world where all people can realize their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

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