Our world is increasingly unequal, with sharp differences in terms of wealth, power, rights and opportunities. That is the focus of this year’s UNFPA report The State of World Population 2017 – WORLDS APART: reproductive health and rights in an age of inequality. On 25 October, Nadine Krysostan from the UNFPA Brussels Office, presented the report in the Belgian parliament.
An important win for women’s rights activists at the 61st session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women as the Commission recognized sexual and reproductive health and rights as human rights of women, “that include their right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on all matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination and violence, as a contribution to the fulfilment of their economic rights, independence and empowerment”.
On the eve of the international conference She Decides in Brussels, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Development Cooperation Alexander De Croo launched Body & Rights, a bilingual (French/Dutch) website with an e-tutorial on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Ahead of the high level She Decides conference of March 2nd in Brussels, Belgium’s All-Party Parliamentary Group ‘Parliamentarians for the 2030 Agenda’ called a parliamentary pre-meeting in the federal parliament. The implications of the Global Gag Rule (GGR), the rise of anti-choice movements and the question how to counter the effects of the GGR were on the agenda.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Development Cooperation Alexander De Croo announced €10 million Belgian support for the She Decides Global Fundraising Initiative. This initiative is to respond to the drop in development aid for family planning. International support for family planning is threatened with the reintroduction of the so-called Global Gag Rule under the Trump-Pence administration. The rule stipulates that family planning providers who inform or refer clients to abortion centers are no longer eligible for USAID support. With the rule $600 million of support for family planning is under threat. This while the Global South is already faced with a high unmet need for family planning services and contraceptives. 225 million women would like to prevent or delay pregnancy but lack access to modern methods of contraception. Universal access to family planning is one of the fundamental targets to realize gender equality, as adopted in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Apart from Belgium, other countries expressed their support for women worldwide during the ‘She Decides’ conference of March 2nd, including Luxemburg, Cape Verde, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Canada.
Girls are the key to success of the 2030 Development Agenda and forced marriage, child labour, female genital cutting and other practices undermine their health and rights. That is the main message of the 2016 State of the World Population of the UNFPA.
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.