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.
What happens when Antwerp youth and Palestinian teenagers (virtually) sit together? Curiosity, recognition and humbleness. That is what we were witness to. On September 22-23rd Sensoa co-organised an exchange with UNFPA Palestine for young people from 15 Palestinian schools in Jerusalem and a class of 3rd graders of Koninklijk Atheneum Antwerpen.
The youngsters talked about their lives during the lockdowns – “My life was put on hold” -, their expectations as to marriage and relationships – ‘love’ and ‘spending time together’ ranked highest - and their ideas about gender and situations of sexual transgressive behaviour.
In 2021, the UK Government is moving to further reduce its aid budget from 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) to 0.5%. Analysis of estimated funding between 2019 and 2022 compared to 2015 to 2018, indicates that gender equality focused programming is severely affected, and women and girls will suffer disproportionately from reductions in funding to critical sectors. The Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO) said these changes are the result of COVID-19’s impact on public finances.
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 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.
Belgium’s all-party parliamentary group ‘Parliamentarians for the 2030 Agenda’ hosted a seminar on 25 years ICPD Programme of Action in the Belgian Senate, days after the ICPD Nairobi Summit of 12-14 November.
UNFPA Brussels Director, Sietske Steneker, introduced the MPs to the successes as well as the unfinished business in realising the ICPD Programme of Action. In the past 25 years, maternal mortality dropped by 40%, adolescent birth rates by one third, early marriages by one fourth and more women had access to family planning.
At the same time, progress has been slow and uneven. In Sub-Saharan Africa, maternal mortality remains an enormous challenge. Worldwide, only 50% of all women have the right to decide to use family planning. The barriers are multiple, including the out-of-pocket costs, the mentality of service providers, and, at the core of it all, the persistence of gender inequality.
UNFPA launched the State of the World Population 2019 in Brussels, May 7th, entitled ‘Unfinished Business. The pursuit of rights and choices for all’. Marking the 25th anniversary of the ICPD Programme of Action (PoA) as well as the 50th birthday of UNFPA itself, the report highlights the progress made, and the challenges ahead.
Belgium’s Directorate General for Development (DGD) Deputy Director Guy Rayée opened the launch, reminding everyone about the milestone the Cairo Programme of Action was. Tremendous progress has been made since, particular for women and their access to family planning.
“Belgium is determined to build a world in which no one, not a single child, not a single young person, not a single woman nor a single girl is left behind.” These were the closing words with which Belgium reconfirmed its strong commitment to the full implementaton of the International Cairo Programme of Action (ICPD) at the 52nd CPD, 1-5 April 2019.
On April 1st the UN Commission on Population and Development unanimously adopted a political declaration reaffirming the importance of the ICPD Program of Action. 2019 marks the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Program of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development by 179 UN Member States in Cairo, Egypt in 1994.
Belgium’s Minister of Development Cooperation, Alexander De Croo, decided to renew Belgium’s support to ‘She Decides’ with €2 million support for UNFPA Supplies in 2018 and in 2019 and with support for UNFPA-UNICEF’s Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage, in 2018-2021 with €2 million/year.
Since ‘She Decides’ was launched, Belgium has also dedicated more attention and support to SRHR in its bilateral cooperation with partner countries. In the most recent multiannual agreements with Guinea, Burkina Faso and Senegal, SRHR is one of 3 priorities.
Belgium supports Guinea bilaterally with a total budget of €37.7 million, €5 million of which is dedicated to reinforce sexual and reproductive rights. In Burkina Faso, €4 million out of the €39 million budget will be dedicated to programmes advancing sexual and reproductive rights.
In Senegal, Belgium supports the country with €39 million, €9 million of which is destined for reproductive, maternal, neonatal, child and adolescent health. Enabel, the Belgian development agency, is in the process of translating the agreements on SRHR into concrete programmes and projects to be run between 2018 and 2022.