ICPD issues and the Financial Crisis
Why the financial crisis matters?
Government budgets may be stripped of funds during a recession, and women and children
are likely to be most affected by crisis
Investments in health infrastructure, water and sanitation are likely to be cut back when
Effective multi-sectoral collaboration may come under strain
Sexual and reproductive health services will likely suffer as health expenditures are cut back,
although each dollar invested in reducing unmet need for contraceptive services will avoid
about $2-4 in expenditures on maternal and newborn health
In times of economic hardship, women with unintended pregnancies are more likely to take
recourse to abortion, including unsafe abortion
Women’s income generating activities may be imperiled as credit dries up and as women lose
jobs both in the formal and informal sectors
Children’s wellbeing can be dramatically impacted when women’s livelihoods suffer, and
when their access to family planning services and health services is restricted
Migrant workers are amongst the first to be laid off which effects families dependent on
Adolescents are likely to be more severely hit by a contraction in labor demand
Countries may reduce budgets for their censuses, surveys and data administration, with the
risk of lowering the standards of data analysis and harming development planning
Initial estimates indicate that without interventions, current poverty will increase. Past crises
have taught us that women are being disproportionally affected, which in turn inversely impacts
their children and communities. As aggregate demand and exports plummet, credit markets
tighten, employment opportunities deteriorate and remittances drop. Food price shocks cause
further loss of employment in export-oriented industries, decline in lending, which affects the
poorest microcredit borrowers, most of whom are women.
Women already represent 70% of the world’s absolute poor. Growing poverty will also impede
improvement in the ICPD indicators, specifically the ability of men and women to realize health
and educational gains. The global financial crisis will limit governments’ tax revenues and
budgets. As people’s situation worsens, demand for government services is likely to increase
from the middle class, which may have the effect of crowding out the poor in the line for
Decreases in per capita gross domestic product are strongly associated with infant mortality.
A one percent contraction in per capita GDP is associated with an increase in infant mortality of
between 0.18 and 0.44 deaths per thousand children born. More than one million excess deaths
have occurred in the developing world from 1980-2004 in countries experiencing economic
contractions of 10% or greater.
Poverty is a major determinant of the lack of access to health services, including reproductive
health services and information. For example, use of contraception by poor women is linked to
the overall degree of poverty in the woman's country. Moreover, poor women are less likely to
use contraception than middle-income women within countries.
In a time of crisis, funding for sexual and reproductive health, gender equality and prevention of
HIV, unwanted pregnancies and preventative care in general, are often first to be discontinued.
In the time of narrowing national budgets, there is a risk that family planning services, pre- and
post-natal services may be perceived as non-essential and dropped as a result.
Dropping pre-natal and post-natal services can potentially lead to increased newborn death and
maternal disability. A decline in post-partum visits, which are commonly used as the opportunity
to provide family planning services, may cause increased unwanted pregnancies and ensuing
Women are also suffering from the tightening of microfinance lending and decreasing access to
microcredit. They make up the majority of microfinance clients (85% of the poorest 93 million
clients of microfinance institutions in 2006) and as credit dries up their earnings from micro-
businesses will drop. This in turns means less income for them, less decision-making power,
decreased capability to allocate resources towards health services or health fees, and nutrition
both for them and their children.
It has been documented during other crises, for example in Latin America in the 1990s, that
boys and girls benefit from positive shocks to per capita GDP in a similar way, but negative
shocks are much more harmful to girls than boys. Explanations for this vary, but it could be due
to family’s preferences to allocate food and medications to boys over girls.
What can we do?
1. Maintain in discussions that it makes economic sense not to cut back funding for sexual and
Emphasize that each $1 invested in contraceptive services will avoid between $1.7 and $4 in
expenditures on maternal and newborn health. Meanwhile, people’s unmet need for family
planning should be addressed even more urgently in stressed times as it brings about these cost
savings in health sector, in maternal health and in newborn and child health. Considerable gains can
be potentially made in subsequent investments in schooling and other services, some being
directed to quality improvements.
Stress that preventing unwanted pregnancies generates immediate cost savings for delivery and
pre- and postnatal care, and for treatment of the complications of unsafe abortions.
Consider the significant economic returns brought by investments in maternal health. Show that
maternal mortality has a statistically significant negative effect on GDP.
2. Advocate for government programs allowing for spacing and limiting of child birth
Spacing births 3 to 5 years apart, especially in young women who want to postpone their next
pregnancy longer, significantly increases the likelihood of child survival. In turn, short intervals
also affect mothers’ energy, weight, and body mass index and bring about infirmities that can
bring about more health expenditures in the long run.
Stress that if a woman has access to funds, she is more likely to allocate them to food for the
family and to medication.
3. Promote continued investment into health infrastructure and capacity building
Dwindling budgets can have devastating effects on hospital services, staff quality and
commitment, as well as quality of health care. Quality of water and sanitation facilities, their
maintenance and investment into new equipment may also be affected. Resources are
therefore needed to pay for supervisory visits to remote clinics and maintenance of premises
(particularly maternity wards).
Health sector cadres, including midwives and community health workers must continue to be
supported, as their interventions prevent pregnancy and birth-related injuries that pose a
distinct burden on budgets.
Provision of a continuum of care needs to be promoted as the most cost-effective means to
protect a person’s wellbeing.
4. Advocate for investment into social safety nets as a government priority
New economic opportunities for poor women can be created while designing public works and
safety nets mechanisms. Allocating funding for social infrastructure investment in areas such as
public health, education, child care, and other social services generates jobs for women since
they are heavily represented in those occupations.
Credit to microfinance institutions needs to be advocated for, as access to microcredit has a
dramatic impact on women’s lives and their decision making ability, especially in situations
where safety nets don’t exist.
Discuss the applicability of conditional cash transfer programs with government counterparts.
Such programs aim to reduce poverty by making money transfers conditional upon such actions
as keeping children enrolled in schools and getting regular medical treatment, etc. Explore the
applicability of social and community insurance mechanisms to cover essential health services.
5. Advocate for youth programs
Levels of youth unemployment tend to be two to three times higher than for the adult
In comparison to adult unemployment, youth unemployment creates a handicap for those
affected that may persist for several years, even after the labour market has recovered. As labor
market entrants are less skilled due to their shorter market experience, they are likely to be
more severely hit by a contraction in labor demand, especially in the formal sector. Recently
employed young people are also likely to be among the first who lose their jobs.
Activities targeting unemployed youth are called for to prevent disenfranchised youth from
reverting to street crime, gangsterism, prostitution and armed conflict.
Programs that should be given priority include youth-friendly (or adolescent only) clinics and
counseling services, school-based interventions, community-based interventions, and peer
education providing information on services, life skills, and contraception.
Special attention should be paid to the issue of early marriage as families may be more inclined
to marry off their daughters to relieve themselves from financial stress.
6. Work in partnerships with multilaterals and other actors in development
Mobilize financial support for NGOs that carry out information campaigns and reach young
women. If girls are no longer able to continue education, schools will no longer be a source of
information. Therefore, other channels (i.e. clinics, counselling centres, civil society, faith-based
groups, media) can step in to fill this void by educating girls on sexual health and family planning
to prevent higher rates of unwanted pregnancies and exposure to sexually transmitted diseases.
Countries may reduce budgets for their censuses, with the risk of lowering the standards of data
collection and obtaining indicators of a quality not up to internationally recognized standards.
Therefore UNFPA needs to continue provide financial assistance and technical backstopping in
data collection and analysis.
Help facilitate public/private partnerships. Given dwindling government budgets, promoting
ICPD goals will have to increasingly rely on cooperation with the private sector. Publicize reports
that highlight the contribution of companies that employ female workers, offer them career
opportunities and provide safety nets.
Work with World Bank, IMF and governments on the design of safety net programs ensuring
they address the needs of girls and women, advocate for incorporation of sexual and
reproductive health and rights into public/private partnerships and community safety nets.
7. Increase effectiveness of UNFPA programs
Provide clear evidence of long-term savings and impact of sexual and reproductive health
interventions. Analyze what programs have worked and expand them, find which programs do
not work and discontinue them. Reallocate resources accordingly.
Consider direct support for family planning services and provision of commodities to address the
pressing issue of unmet need for family planning.
Continue to emphasize that multiple sectors need to cooperate and prepare joint programs,
both to save money and to effectively target cross-sectoral issues such as migration, human
trafficking, gender-based violence and adolescent reproductive health.