The economics of sex: why the Mexico City policy must be aborted to allow women to prosper

As 2021 takes shape and we celebrate the inauguration of the Joe Biden and his deputy, Kamala Harris, we can start to look back and critique many of the decisions of the Trump administration – an administration often described as tumultuous, and littered with rollbacks of rules and policies designed to protect Earth’s most vulnerable. One such rollback was Trump’s decision to both reinstate and broaden the infamous Mexico City policy – a ban on all global health organisations receiving US government funding from performing or promoting abortion as a method of family planning.[1] This extrapolation meant that the policy would apply to ~15x more funding than it had previously, effectively shuttering many health organisations dealing with women’s health.[2]

Paradoxically, during its 4-year reign, the Trump administration also sought the establishment of the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) Initiative. Led by Ivanka Trump, the W-GDP aims to implement a non-partisan, whole-of-government effort to advance women’s economic empowerment, intending to reach 50M women in the developing world by 2025. The mandate, as set out in the W-GDP strategy, is to “support efforts to advance women’s equality, protect the rights of women and girls, and promote women and youth empowerment programs”, and sets out clear objectives and targets to measure its success.[3] At the end of its first year, W-GDP reported that $100M of US Government funds were utilized to reach 12M women, indicating the initiative is well on its way to reach its mandate.

In a government that gained notoriety early for its insular policy, the W-GDP was welcomed as a bastion of hope, cementing the role that the US could play in women’s economic development. Senator Lindsey Graham saw this initiative as “…a comprehensive approach to ensuring our missions abroad prioritize women’s economic empowerment.”[4] A representative from USAID similarly saw the initiative as “leveraging the collective resources and expertise of the United States Government to unlock the full economic potential of women around the world.”[5] However, it is clear that this initiative offers neither a comprehensive approach to women’s economic empowerment, nor leverages the US Government’s resources to unlock the potential power of women globally.

Put simply, we cannot advance the economic rights of women without acknowledging the structures that have allowed discrimination to pervade. In constricting women’s ability to control their sexual and reproductive health, as the Mexico City policy does, the government erodes a core avenue for economic empowerment available to women in developing nations – the ability to plan for their families, and their time.  

A truly comprehensive approach must include attention to women’s health as a priority. Economic empowerment necessitates choice and opportunity, which the archaic Mexico City policy continues to limit. The advancement of gender equality and economic prosperity cannot be siloed; instead, it must come from changes in social structures dictating access to health and education as a basis for economic growth. Empowerment for women in developing nations cannot be separated between the economic and the physical – the two will always be inextricably interlinked – and as such, the inherent paradox between the mandate W-GDP and the enactment of the Mexico City policy must be removed.  

Thankfully, Biden and Harris have committed to lifting this policy. By breaking down these silos and broadening the ambit of the W-GDP to include an acknowledgement of both access to health and to education, there is a fresh opportunity for the US to play a pivotal role in the advancement of women’s rights globally.

Victoria Henderson (MBA 2021) has three years’ experience in management consulting at Bain & Company, and a background in Law and Politics. She is an intern for the Wheeler Institute, contributing to the creation of content that amplifies the role of business in improving lives.

The Wheeler Institute is seeking to understand, illuminate and offer solutions to the challenges faced by the developing world, with an aim to identify the role of business in addressing these challenges and a focus on the implications and actions for those in developing countries. In support of our students, we approach this blog section as a reflective platform and a space where individuals can generate debate as long term agents of positive change.

[1] HumanRightsWatch, Trump’s ‘Mexico City Policy’ or ‘Global Gag Rule’, 14 February 2018.
[2] Sarah Wildman, Trump’s global abortion gag rule goes much further than any previous administration, Vox, 26 January 2017.
[3] Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, Annual Report 2019-2020, WhiteHouse, p47.
[4] Annual Report 2019-2020, p13.
[5] Annual Report 2019-2020, p21.

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