Our Opportunity to Do Better: How the U.S. Can Repair, Restore, and Reconstruct Global Sexual and Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice

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 reproductive health, rights, and justice (SRHRJ) at home and abroad. From the unprecedented expansions of the global gag rule; to the annual defunding of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA, the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency); to repeated efforts to strike these and other rights from global consensus documents and human rights reporting and to coalesce other governments in anti-rights declarations; it’s clear there is much damage to be undone.

But beyond reversing damage and returning to an overrated status quo, this is an unprecedented moment for the U.S. to advance a progressive foreign policy that prioritizes gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights and that goes further than any prior U.S. Administration by also addressing reproductive justice. The work of repairing, restoring and reconstructing U.S. leadership on global gender equality and SRHRJ is on us as the advocacy community as much as it is with the Biden-Harris Administration. Here are some critical elements of what the advocacy movements are calling for:

1. Undoing the damage done under the Trump-Pence Administration. On Day 1, the Biden-Harris Administration must unequivocally state its support for gender equality and SRHRJ by declaring its intent to execute a feminist foreign policy, revoking the expanded global gag rule, reversing the Kemp-Kasten determination that prohibits U.S. funding to UNFPA, and ultimately ensuring that key agency officials fully implement these changes. The U.S. must also halt the WHO withdrawal process and re-enter the Paris Climate Agreement, both of which impact health, rights and justice globally.

2. Laying the groundwork for progress and restoring the U.S as a global leader. Setting the stage includes resources, structure, and accountability. The President’s first budget request will reflect the Administration’s top priorities and must include robust funding for global gender equality, gender-based violence prevention and response, women’s leadership in peace and security, and SRHRJ programs and also signal to Congress the urgency to correct longstanding harmful policy restrictions. This will be an important marker that this Administration is ready to take real action on these issues. The Administration must also strengthen the U.S. Department of State, Health and Human Services and USAID’s ability to lead on gender equality and SRHRJ globally by nominating and appointing Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) candidates with experienced, pro-SRHRJ records for senior positions and creating new Task Forces that institutionalize these priorities across the whole of U.S. foreign policy and in some cases, national security architecture. The State Department must also leverage its influence on the global stage by resurrecting comprehensive monitoring and reporting on SRHRJ and LGBTQ violations around the world in its annual Human Rights report and championing these rights as an expectation in diplomatic relations and in multilateral convenings.

3. Reconstructing U.S. foreign policy with a transformational agenda on SRHRJ — one that is truly centered on lived realities and recognizes people as the drivers and decision-makers in their own lives. People who experience the greatest threats to their reproductive health and freedom should be driving strategy, priority-setting and resource decision-making; otherwise we risk doing more harm than good. Leaders from these movements, including BIPOC, trans* and Indigenous people have always been calling for reproductive justice — combining social justice with reproductive rights — and we all need to show up in this moment to support that call in U.S. foreign policy. This includes both advocating for these leaders to be the decision-makers in politically-appointed seats and ensuring that there is a significant shift of resources to movement leaders who have the deep knowledge of what their communities want and need — the strongest path to systemic and enduring change.

This work is on those of us who are part of the foreign policy advocacy establishment as much as it is on the Administration to make sure we build new alliances and create new tables so that we are not serving as proxy advocates but actually ensuring experts have the space and respect to speak on behalf of their own communities. Fortunately, there are a number of groups and movements led by people, especially BIPOC leaders with these lived realities, that have been charting the way. The real work will be actually shifting the paradigm at the start, not checking the box as an afterthought; and making this the norm.

This is just a sample of actions outlined by U.S. based feminist movements for our new government — comprehensively addressing gender equality, gender-based violence, peace and security and SRHRJ. To learn more, explore:

The Blueprint for Sexual and Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice, created by a broad and diverse coalition of more than 90 organizations, and its First Priorities.

— A plan for the first 100 days from the Coalition to End Violence Against Women and Girls Globally — a broad group of than 180 organizations.

— A Feminist Foreign Policy for the United States, endorsed by more than 70 groups, and a memo to the next Administration.

— The U.S. Civil Society Working Group on Women, Peace, and Security’s plan for Prioritizing the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda in the First Hundred Days.

— Ongoing advocacy from BIPOC leaders for domestic and global reproductive justice, including SisterSong, the National Birth Equity Collaborative, AfroResistance, and Black Feminist Future.

— Recommendations from experts across the LGBTI community on Transforming U.S. Foreign Policy To Ensure Dignity and Rights for LGBTI People.

We are in this together. The Universal Access Project commits to doing better, to learning from and partnering with movement leaders, and to supporting and pushing the new Administration toward a holistic, transformative U.S. foreign policy agenda.

Learn more about the Universal Access Project and get involved at www.universalaccessproject.org.

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