Lack of information, misinformation, myths about sex and contraception, poor access or even no access to contraception, but also the lack of dialogue about contraception use and pregnancy between partners cause many (young) women to become pregnant unplanned. These challenges mean that one of the most fundamental choices, to become pregnant or not, is not a free and informed choice for many women worldwide. This is the gist of the State of The World Population report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), 2022.
The UN Commission on the Status of Women negotiated the relations between climate change and gender inequality. This was a perfect opportunity for the Parliamentarians of the 2030 Agenda and the Advisory Board on Gender and Development to organise a seminar on the impact of climate change on women and girls’ SRHR.
40 participants, including parliamentary assistants, cabinet members and experts of the Directorate General for Development (DGD) as well as civil society stakeholders and academics were provided with a window into the challenges that climate change poses for the health and rights of women and girls in low income countries (LIC).
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.
Across the globe COVID-19 has led to the closure of schools for weeks and sometimes months on end. In many cases, distance learning turned out to be an imperfect substitute to live, on campus, classes and the school closures deepened existing inequalities, disproportionally affecting those who had already fallen behind: girls and women, poor people, refugees and ethnic minorities.
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.
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.
“Macho politics uses the emotional debate and media attention generated by sexual and reproductive rights issues to appear “strong”. It uses criminalisation to persuade voters that their real problems - of insecurity, inequality, poverty, powerlessness, anger - can be solved by attacking these groups rather than by a fundamental redistribution of political and economic power”, asserted IPPF General Director Alvaro Bermejo in an exchange with the members of the ‘Parliamentarians for the 2030 Agenda’, Belgium’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
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.
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.