Despite the international backlash against SRHR and an increasing anti-women’s rights sentiment entering our decision-making spaces both in Europe and across the Atlantic, the past year saw financial and political commitments solidified and support for SRHR championed by European donor countries in many global fora, including Belgium.
According to Professor in bio-ethics Peter Singer (DM, 7 July) population growth has become a taboo due to “a bizarre coalition of the Vatican, which has always been against anticonception and birth control, on the one hand, and radical feminists on the other, who gave priority to women’s freedom to choose how many children they want.” I choked in my coffee. Peter Singer is not an opponent of women’s rights, quite the contrary. And indeed, immediately after, the professor stated that these feminists “had a point, namely that family planning is a women’s right”. “But”, he continued, “at the level of the collective this leads to problems they forget to take into account, as an increase of young children equally increases the need for more schools, hospitals, jobs, etcetera.”
UN Member States failed to reach a consensus on a resolution on Sustainable Cities, Human Mobility and International Migration, the main theme of the 51st Commission on Population and Development, April 9th-13th. It is the third time in the past four years that the CPD remains without agreed conclusions.
“In too many contexts, she has actually never decided anything. Telling her that she decides WITHOUT giving her the foundation upon which to do so, could be naïve at best – and irresponsible at worst. We cannot raise expectations of autonomy and agency without providing a foundation for this to actually happen.” Lina Abirafeh, Director of the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World at the Lebanese American University in Lebanon and She Decides Champion’s message was clear. Abirafeh delivered the key note at the She Decides’ anniversary event in the Belgium parliament, which sought to answer the question ‘Can She Decide in times of crisis?’, focusing on women’s and girls’ access to SRHR during humanitarian crises.
At the Family Planning Summit in London, donor governments, southern governments and philanthropic institutes promised to invest 5 billion dollars in sexual and reproductive health services in developing countries.
On World Contraception Day, Countdown 2030 Europe announced the start of a new project phase, allowing the Consortium to continue to promote European political leadership and support to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Family Planning in the next 4 years.
Minister of Social Affairs and Public Health Maggie De Block, the President of the Chamber Siegfried Bracke and members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group ‘Parliamentarians for the 2030 Agenda’ visited the one-day African family planning clinic that opened its doors in the heart of the federal parliament. The pop-up clinic called attention for the 225 million women in the South who would like to prevent or postpone pregnancy, but lack access to contraception.
The Minister and MPs were touched by the stories of the African women consulting the clinic. They got to know Isha Isha, a 15 year old girl in her fifth month of pregnancy. She was sent to the clinic by her mum, who lost two of her other daughters during their deliveries. With her father’s passing, Isha Isha had married one of his old friends, to help out the family.
The MPs felt Coumba’s frustration. An ambitious young woman, Coumba set up a business with her peers. She came to the clinic to have an IUD installed. Children, yes, one day, but not now, so she explained. But Coumba had to leave the clinic empty-handed. Stock-outs, so she was told. Abstinence, the advice she received.
Maybe the most touching story was Hope’s. A pregnant mum of two who was having an HIV-test. Hope didn’t understand. How could she be HIV-positive? She’d been faithful all along. The doctor told her to come back. Her youngest boy needed to be tested too.
The stories of these African women were made-up. They were played by professional actors based on real life stories. They show how access to contraception remains a major challenge for so many women. 225 million women in the South would like to prevent or postpone pregnancy, but can’t.
Because of the unmet need for family planning, many women get pregnant at an early age or end up having successive pregnancies, with little or no time in-between. This puts their health and lives at risk, as well as their children’s. If this unmet need were met it is estimated 150,000 women’s lives a year could be saved, the death of 590,000 newborns could be prevented and half a million children would not lose their mother.
Belgian politicians understood that the international community needs to step up its efforts to help achieve the 2030 target of universal access to sexual and reproductive health.