40 years ago the first people dying of aids were registered. At a seminar with the Parliamentarians for the 2030 Agenda, Prof. Marie Laga (ITM) explained how the epidemic grew at an alarming speed in the 1990s and 2000s. As it hit countries in Southern Africa, life-expectancy in countries such as Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia and South Africa dropped below the level of the 1960s. Things started to change when in 1996 anti-retroviral treatment (ART) became available for people in the wealthy North. However, the drugs were unaffordable for patients living in the South. It was only thanks to activists’ campaigns that political recognition and action came about, and brought about fundamental change with the creation of international coordination through UNAIDS, and increased funding through the Global Fund and PEPFAR. This led to a rapid scale-up of people’s access to ART, standing at 2% in 2001 and amounting to 73% today. However, with 1.5 million new infections in 2020, we are not seeing ‘the end of aids’ yet and HIV prevention remains the biggest challenge.
One year after the highly controversial changes to the Polish abortion law making Poland one of the EU-countries with the most restrictive access to abortion care, the human rights and rule of law situation in Poland continues to deteriorate.
Two members of the parliamentary group Parliamentarians for 2030 Agenda, Séverine de Laveleye and Orry Van de Wauwer witnessed this when they participated in the European Parliamentary Forum on Sexual and Reproductive rights’ annual Conference in Warsaw, Poland on 21-22 October. At the end of a first day of panel discussions on SRHR in Poland and worldwide, the participants signed a statement of commitment with regard to Poland and the global state of SRHR.
UNAIDS’ recent report finds that worldwide goals for 2020 have not been reached, despite past years’ efforts. More people know their HIV-status, more people have access to medicines and more people have an undetectable viral load thanks to treatment. Yet, the efforts to prevent new infections have been less successful. The number of new infections among adults has hardly dropped in the past 4 years. Not a single region reached the goal to decrease new infections by 75% compared to 2016.
LGBTI-persons and particularly young people ran increased risks of verbal and physcial violence during the lockdowns, and many struggled with depressions and thoughts of suicide. Especially those who could not ‘out’ themselves at home endured very challenging times. Being disconnected from their peers pushed young LGBTI-persons even more into social isolation, says senator, member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and chair of the ‘Parliamentarians for the 2030 Agenda’, Fourat Ben Chikha, at the Human rights conference held in Copenhagen during the World Pride late August. The impact of the measurements on the human rights of LGBTI-persons needs close monitoring, so he said, to allow the adoption of necessary (preventive) actions to guarantee their rights.
Over 100 parliamentarians from all over the world had gathered in Copenhagen to discuss the contemporary challenges for LGBTI-persons. Also, MP Goedele Liekens and Flemish MP and senator Orry Van de Wauwer, both members of the ‘Parliamentarians for the 2030 Agenda’ were present. Former member and current Vice-Prime Minister Petra De Sutter represented the Belgian government at the World Pride.
The parliamentarians for the 2030 agenda and UNFPA Brussels co-hosted the Belgian launch of UNFPA’s 2021 State of the World Population report that carries the meaningful title ‘My Body is Own’/ ‘Mon Corps m’Appartient’. UNFPA presented its report that discusses what bodily autonomy is and how we can measure it. It poses the question how we can achieve bodily autonomy for everyone.
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).
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.
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.
Anti-gender movements have been on the rise in Europe and beyond, outright questioning gender equality, opposing sexual and reproductive rights of women, sexual minorities and young people’s access to information and education about their sexuality. The current Covid-19 response has provided these professionally organised groups with new opportunities to reinforce their agendas.