Australia has turned up empty handed to a major international conference which has pledged more than a quarter of a billion of dollars for women affected by President Donald Trump’s reinstatement of the “global gag rule”, which has stripped international non-government organisations that provide abortion services, advice or referrals of US funding.

The order was one of Mr Trump’s first actions as President and restricts US funding not only for family planning organisations but to other health service providers. It is estimated it will leave aid organisations short of $US600 million (or around $790 million), which campaigners say will put millions of women’s lives at risk.

To make up for the shortfall, the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Lilianne Ploumen, established the She Decides movement to raise money from both through private sources and other governments.

Ministers from Belguim, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark organised today’s pledging conference. It raised ???181 million or around $251 million.

“When I launched the idea of gathering in Brussels four weeks ago, I never had hoped so many would come to voice their support,” Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said.

“It is a very powerful signal to the rest of the world that the fundamental right of women and girls to decide over their own lives must be respected,” said the Dutch Minister Lilianne Ploumen.

“Investing in women’s rights is not only the right thing to do, it’s a rational thing to do,” said Ulla T??rn??s minister for development cooperation of Denmark.

Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls Sharman Stone attended the She Decides conference in Brussels and said Australia was a “strong champion” of sexual health services.

“Empowering women and girls is a central objective of our foreign policy focus,” Dr Stone, a former Liberal MP, said.

“Access to sexual health and reproductive services, particularly family planning remains critical to women’s empowerment – we’ve all been saying this,” the Ambassador said.

But she did not commit any funding on Australia’s behalf.

She was was applauded though when she read out details of previously announced $9.5 million in funding Australia has committed to respond to sexual health needs during humanitarian disasters in the region.

By contrast, Canada pledged $26 million, as did the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. One anonymous donor contributed $66 million.

Opposition MPs in Australia had called on Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to contribute on Australia’s behalf.

Labor Senator Lisa Singh wrote to the Foreign Minister two weeks ago urging Australia support the movement.

“Pledging of funds to the initiative is in line with Australia’s ongoing support to the Sustainable Development Goals,” Senator Singh wrote in the letter dated 14 February.

The Minister did not respond. Fairfax Media has confirmed the government will not be committing any funding.

Senator Singh called on Ms Bishop to rethink her decision.???

“Women’s lives are at stake,” Senator Singh said.

“This is a missed opportunity. It is critical that donor countries like Australia support the She Decides Fund.

“This was an opportunity to stand by women and girls in some of the poorest countries to safeguard them from losing access to contraception, HIV prevention and vital maternal healthcare to prevent maternal deaths.

“It is short-sighted and places gains we have made in reducing maternal mortality at risk,” she said.

Michael Sheldrick from Global Citizen presents Australia's Ambassador for Women and Girls Dr. Sharman Stone with a petition of 20,000 signatures.

Michael Sheldrick presents Sharman Stone with a petition of 20,000 signatures. Photo: Supplied

Michael Sheldrick from the global social impact organisation Global Citizen says Australia’s attendance at the conference was nevertheless “critical” and had been keenly noted.

“While there were many governments represented, many also chose not to participate out of a fear of being perceived as anti-the US. Therefore having Australia, a close US ally, present sent a powerful message around the seriousness and importance of funding women’s health and family planning.”

“Julie Bishop’s name was mentioned to me several times as someone known internationally for her strong support of family planning. So it’s good this support was made public, even if there were was no new funding accompanying it,” he said.

At the She Decides conference, Mr Sheldrick presented Ambassador Stone with a petition of 20,000 signatures calling for leadership and funding to plug the funding gap created by President Trump’s order.

Source: New Castle Herald