By Ninha Silva, MARCH Centre Blog Editor (MSc Public Health Candidate)
As I was on my way to the Women’s March on London with my sister, I could feel the thrum of anticipation in the air.
The always crowded Oxford Street had been filled with chanting slogans, banners and other colourful forms of visual protest. While some protesters were trying to find their way to Grosvenor Square, others seemed to have decided to start protesting right there and then.
At Grosvenor Square, people were gathering around the stage built in front of the United States embassy, ready to listen to the opening speeches.
The organisers of Women’s March on London, estimate that 100,000 people marched on Saturday, in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington and for fundamental human rights to be protected.
Women, men and young children walked alongside from Grosvenor Square to Trafalgar Square. The banners reflected the diversity of the groups marching and the solidarity between the causes.
Many people condemning Donald Trump’s misogynistic comments wielded banners that read “Trump. Special relationship? Just say no” or “Stay Nasty”. Others, focusing on his intolerant remarks and denial of the climate change, showed “No to racism. No to Trump.”, “Dump Trump. Fight bigotry” and “If we care for our planet we care for ourselves”.
Many others were there to voice concern around women’s basic rights that will be in danger under Trump’s presidency, with messages such as: “My body is not public property” or “Girls just wanna have fun-damental human rights”. President Trump’s policies will not only affect American women access to family planning, but will also deny many women around the world the right to receive the appropriate medical care.
When asked why they were marching, some protesters hoped that the march would send a message of unity and commitment to progress to Mr Trump.
Alicia Paine, an American living in London for 31 years, told me: “we are all connected and if we don’t do anything then we might as well be complicit with whatever Donald Trump is doing; and it is not just Donald Trump. It is the start of a worldwide movement to de-globalize things”.
Ian Brice, from South London, said he was marching “for equality, for the planet, against hate. I hope it sends a message to Donald trump, and to our own government, that we are not to lose the progress we have made in terms of equality in recent years.”
Other protesters explained they did not know what effect the march would have, but wanted to “show solidarity with minority groups” and that “we care”.
Women’s March Global reports that over 600 cities, across 57 countries, marched on the 21st of January in solidarity with Women’s March on Washington. Millions of people around the globe are believed to have poured into the streets in opposition to President Trump’s rhetoric and in support of women’s rights. Organisers believe that half a million people rallied in the streets of Washington DC alone.
Pictures and reports from marches around the world, that emerged from social media, are overwhelming with many people describing the 21st of January as an historic day.
The attack on Women’s March on London
Just 48 hours after the Women’s March, President Donald Trump and his cabinet, reinstated the Global Gag Rule.
The Global Gag Rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy, has three fundamental restrictions: it denies U.S family planning funding and assistance to foreign NGOs that perform or promote abortions; the rule forbids all NGOs receiving U.S funding from supporting or decriminalising abortion in their countries; NGOs based in countries where abortion is legalised, that continue receiving USAID, cannot offer abortion or refer the women to an alternative provider.
Interpreted by many as a huge step back for women’s rights, the Global Gag Rule not only violates the principles of freedom and governance by commanding how organisations can spend their funding, but mainly endangers women’s health.
Trump and his administration put now the lives of millions of disadvantaged and vulnerable women at risk, by denying them access to safe services. Trump has expanded the Global Gag Rule to cove not only NGO providing family planning services, but also to al global health organisations that receive US funding.
The U.S government is the largest donor to global health in the world and the majority of the funding is channelled to the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of State. USAID reports to receive a funding of approximately $2.9 billion for global heath.
Many pro-choice advocates have manifested discontentment towards this rule, defending that it will have the opposite effect of the intended. In truth, in 2015, a Guttmacher Institute review reported that U.S funding prevented “2.4 million abortions in fiscal year 2015 by averting six million unintended pregnancies”.
One of the first executive orders signed by Trump, the global gag rule has its origins in 1984, during Reagan Administration. The rule signed in the International Conference on Population in Mexico City was nothing but an escalation of the 1973 Helms Amendment.
Helms Amendment established that organisations receiving U.S family planning assistance were “prohibited from supporting abortion as a method of family planning using U.S. funds”. However, Reagan’s gag rule took the legislation to a different level by denying funding to organisations that advocate abortion and that perform, counsel or refer women to abortion services.
Since then the global gag rule, and the life of millions of women around the world, has been bouncing back and forth through the different administrations.
The gag rule subjects family planning programmes to the volatility of the politics and agenda of the administration in charge. According to Population Action International (PAI), after refusing to accept the policy in 2001, Marie Stopes Kenya and Family Planning Association of Kenya were forced to lay off staff and close down clinics due to lack of funds.
Now that Trump reinstated and expanded the rule, many other organisations will be forced to choose between accepting U.S family planning funds and accept all the restrictions that come with the funds; or refuse U.S funding and seek an alternative source of funding in order keep advocating, providing services and support to women around the world.
Image Copyright: Ninha Silva