– Release date: 09 July 2003
Today, the Irish Family Planning Association and Mary Banotti MEP, Irish Goodwill Ambassador to UNFPA, officially launched the “34 Million Friends” campaign in Ireland. The campaign is a grassroots fundraising movement aimed at providing support for the United Nations Population Fund following the withdrawal of US funding for the agency last year.
Senator Mary Henry, Deputy Simon Coveney (FG), Deputy Fiona O’Malley (PD), Deputy Sean Power(FF) and Deputy Jan O’Sullivan (Labour), joined Mary Banotti to launch the campaign. They gave first-hand accounts of the importance of UNFPA programs based on recent study tours to Ethiopia, Uganda, Colombia, Brazil and other countries around the world. Proinsias de Rossa MEP, Senator David Norris, Deputy Liz O’Donnell (PD) and Deputy Eoin Ryan (FF) signed up to be friends of the UNFPA.
In July 2002, the US State department announced it would deny UNFPA $34 million approved by the US Congress due to charges that the agency supports coercive abortion in China. The Bush administration cut UNFPA funding despite the fact that a team appointed by the White House to investigate the allegations found no evidence to support them. The $34 million withdrawal translates into a 12.5 per cent reduction in resources for UNFPA programs.
Outraged by the denial of US funds to UNFPA, two American women began an e-mail campaign urging men and women across the United States to donate $1 or more to help bridge the funding gap. In May 2003, the campaign reached the $1 million mark, supported by more than 100,000 people. Hundreds of envelopes containing dollar bills, generous checks and heartfelt messages continue to arrive each day at the UNFPA offices in New York. The campaign is now widespread in Europe.
According to the IFPA, “The ’34 Million Friends’ campaign has ensured that reproductive and sexual health services for people in developing countries will not be sacrificed for the sake of groups set on discrediting UNFPA.
“With just one euro, UNFPA is able to provide emergency birthing kits which help prevent the more than half-million maternal deaths that occur each year during childbirth.
“Through the IFPA’s work as a collaborative partner to UNFPA since 1997, we have helped raise awareness of the importance of overseas development assistance from wealthier nations like Ireland.
“The Irish Government has taken a commendable step by increasing the 2003 contribution to UNFPA by 38%, bringing the Irish contribution to 2.54 million euro. However, more can be done. The “34 Million Friends” campaign is a way for Irish people to make a difference on an individual and personal level. We hope it will be as great a success in Ireland as it has been in America and the rest of Europe.”