Reducing inequalities lies at the heart of UNAIDS’ 2021-2026 new Global AIDS Strategy. It aims to assist and guide every country and community in reaching UNAIDS goals of zero new HIV-infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. A comprehensive framework of actions has been outlined to tackle inequalities and protect human rights in the HIV response. The gaps for HIV prevention, testing, treatment and support can be closed by reducing inequalities. The Strategy’s vision for reducing inequalities and laying the foundation to reach the 2030 targets builds on its three Strategic Priorities: (1) Maximise equitable and equal access to HIV services and solutions; (2) Break down barriers to achieving HIV outcomes;(3) Fully resource efficient HIV responses and integrate HIV in systems for health, social protection, and humanitarian and pandemic responses.
The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) took place in New York, late March. The CSW is instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women. The priority theme for this year’s session was: “Women's full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.”
Like-minded countries (EU, Mountains (Norway, Canada, Iceland, Australia, NZ, Switzerland) and the Santiago Group (Latin America countries), including the US delegation) were quite aligned towards the CSW-text, but constantly faced the conservative voices from Russia, Holy See, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. While an agreed outcome was eventually adopted, the UN Member States were not able to agree on key issues - such as sexual and reproductive health and rights, Young Women and Girls’ participation, intimate partner violence, Multiple and Intersecting Forms of Discrimination, Women, Peace and Security and Women’s Human Rights Defenders (WHRD).
Belgian MPs shared their SRHR promises for 2021 in a joint campaign with EPF on social media. They did so on the occassion of World Women’s Day.
Members of the Belgian All-Party Parliamentary Group ‘Parliamentarians for the 2020 Agenda’ individually commit to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights nationally and internationally. Each MP has set personal goals. MPs commit to take up the challenges regarding young people’s access to contraceptives and the morning-after pill; the extension of the abortion law, the fight against forced marriages, incest, gender-based violence at the work place, period poverty and more. For you to discover in the video-slide show or in the visuals below.
Sensoa International's annual audit of the expenditures by the Belgian Directorate General for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid (DGD) shows that spending on health and reproductive health in 2019 was at its lowest level in four years. DGD spent a total of 11.08% of its budget on health and reproductive health in 2019, whereas support halted at 13.29% in 2017 and 12.84% in 2016.
Particularly worrying is DGD's declining support for HIV prevention and treatment, for which the budget was cut in half during the previous government term. Support has been falling since 2017, with substantially less attention for HIV in Belgium’s bilateral cooperation and less support for multilateral organisations that take the lead in the global 'HIV response', such as UNAIDS and the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM). Multilateral support did increase in 2019, but not enough to turn the tide.
The policy declaration and note of new Minister for Development Cooperation Meryame Kitir builds on the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis demonstrates the importance of strong public sectors, such as health care, education and social protection.
ODA makes up a crucial lever to ensure sustainable recovery, so the declaration reads. The Belgian government has committed to a growth path to reach 0.7% by 2030.
The Parliamentarians for the 2030 Agenda and UNFPA jointly launched the 2020 State of the World Population report in Belgium through an online interactive webinar. Invited speakers to the launch included newly appointed Minister of Development Cooperation, Meryame Kitir, director for Plan International Niger Ramatou Kane, co-director of GAMS Belgium, Stephanie Florquin, as well as representatives of the Directorate-General Development Cooperation. Els Van Hoof, chair of the parliamentary group took on the moderation.
UNFPA Brussels director, Sietske Steneker, presented the report, aptly entitled ‘Against my will’, discussing the harmful practices against women and girls around the world. These harmful practices include female genital mutilation, child marriage and sex selection. They are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the absolute number of girls subjected to these practices is still growing, even after decades of hard work by advocates and grassroots organisations.
In the 2020 Contraception Policy Atlas, Belgium stands out with a whopping 96.4% score, leaving the 2nd in rank – France – far behind. Belgium beat France by improving women’s access to emergency contraception and reimbursing contraception for women under the age of 25. Former Chair of the 'Parliamentarians for the 2030 Agenda' and recently appointed Minister of Pensions in Belgium’s new federal government, Karine Lalieux has been one of the driving forces behind the new reimbursement schemes.
The Contraception Policy Atlas developed by EPF compares 46 countries by looking at their policies regarding access to contraceptives, including the reimbursement schemes and family planning counselling as well as at the available public online information.
Back to square one? What is the impact of COVID-19 on the realisation of the Sustainable Development Agenda?
The ‘Parliamentarians for the 2030 Agenda’ see to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, and Belgium’s role therein. During a webinar on September 29th the parliamentarians looked at where we are 5 years into the 2030 Agenda and enquired into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its realisation.
Prof. Dr. Olivier Degomme, Director of the International Centre for Reproductive Health (ICRH-Ghent University) took stock of the consequences of the pandemic on SDG3, ‘good health and well-being for all’. He showed the worldwide measurements have serious consequence for the access to contraceptives, family planning services and maternal health. Recent research of the WHO indicated that 90% of all countries reported interruptions of essential health services, and 68% reported interruptions of family planning services.
The new Minister of Development Cooperation is Meryame Kitir, member of the Flemish social-democratic party and a popular politician from the province of Limburg. She has a migration and working-class background and grew into politics through her involvement as a labour unionist. Her parliamentary work focused on social affairs, which will be an asset when engaging with Belgium’s international development cooperation.
What does it take to meet the need for sexual and and reproductive health services? Guttmacher did the math.
Guttmacher’s recently published 2019 “Adding it Up” report captures the shortages in sexual and reproductive health services in low and middle income countries (LMIC). The research institute calculated what it would take to bridge the gap.