European countries have played a leading role in promoting a gender-sensitive approach to health. Women’s health has substantial implications for economic development and growth. There is evidence, from various studies, that women’s well-being and literacy boosts economic growth and improves population health. Women are custodians of the health of family members and community, and play an important role in sustaining good health and well-being for the communities in which they live. Their informal contribution to care is unpaid and unrecognized in all parts of the world, despite the fact that women’s unpaid contribution is estimated to contribute to almost 30 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). This is in addition to their contribution to subsistence agriculture and other informal sector activities.
The European Union has been active in promoting women’s reproductive health, in particular through aid for policies and actions on reproductive and sexual health and related rights – one of the two thematic areas of the EuropeAid Cooperation Office. The European Commission, through its Directorate-General for Development, has affirmed its conviction that the United Nations Millennium Development Goals should be linked to the health and rights of women and children, as well as its commitment to the implementation of the United Nations Millennium Declaration.
Similarly, EU countries have affirmed, both at the global and regional level, their belief in reproductive health and rights as a development priority. At a meeting organized by the Swedish government and the United Nations Population Fund in Stockholm, in April 2005, over 20 developing and developed countries issued the ‘Stockholm Call to Action: Investing in Reproductive Health and Rights as a Development Priority’, by which they committed, among other things, to mobilize political commitment on this issue in national and global meetings, to strengthen health systems to support reproductive and sexual health, to invest in efforts to increase women’s decision-making power in all aspects of their lives, and to continue to work towards improved aid effectiveness in this area.
In January 2006, in the Latvian capital, Riga, parliamentarians from the new EU Baltic member states expressed similar concerns and their wish to contribute to increased awareness on the subject. Through the Riga parliamentary statement of commitment, they committed themselves, in particular, to give high priority to sexual and reproductive health and rights in international development policies at national level and in European institutions.
However, as is – sadly – often the case, there is a marked difference between rhetoric and action. Despite such noble commitments, a 2008 study by the German Foundation for World Population (DSW) and the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development (EPF) found that, according to the latest data, European funding for family planning and basic reproductive health services in poor countries fell by 7.8 per cent, a drop of more than US$ 160 million. This follows repeated affirmations by EU governments of their commitment to reproductive health and a resolution by the European Parliament, in September 2008, calling for more funding for maternal health.