Cervical cancer is the third most common type of cancer among women worldwide. Moreover, it is the most common cancer in women in approximately 42 low-income countries. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), the most transmitted sexually transmitted infection (STI), is the leading cause of cervical cancer. Around 70% of all cervical cancers are caused by HPV. Today, cervical cancer is one of the most easily preventable types of cancers. High-income countries should be able to eliminate cervical cancer in the 21st century. However, low- and middle-income countries hold the highest burden and the highest mortality rates of cervical cancer.
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).
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.
Days of protests followed the tightening of abortion laws in Poland on 27 January. This legislation prohibits women from terminating a pregnancy, even if their foetus has severe abnormalities. Doctors and caregivers who assist women and their partners to do so, now risk up to 3 years in prison.
Law and Justice (PiS), the ruling party, previously tried to push through this tightening. Already in 2016 and 2018, it presented the law in parliament, but each time it met with huge popular protests. Thanks to the establishment of the Constitutional Court and the systematic replacement of moderate judges with conservative ones, the PiS was able to push through the stricter rules after all.
Newly appointed US President Joe Biden cleans house after 4 years of the Trump administration. The US has rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, will not withdraw from the World Health Organisation and will again fund UNFPA, the United Nations Population Agency.
On top of all these executive orders, Biden also repealed the Mexico City Policy or Global Gag Rule. This policy, which prohibits US aid to foreign organisations that refer people to centres that offer abortion or discuss abortion as an option, was successively instituted by Republican presidents and repealed by Democratic presidents. An on and off relationship for years, with all the consequences on the ground.
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.
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.
In the 2020 Contraception Policy Atlas, Belgium stands out with a whopping 96.4% score, leaving the 2nd in rank – France – far behind. Belgium beat France by improving women’s access to emergency contraception and reimbursing contraception for women under the age of 25. Former Chair of the 'Parliamentarians for the 2030 Agenda' and recently appointed Minister of Pensions in Belgium’s new federal government, Karine Lalieux has been one of the driving forces behind the new reimbursement schemes.
The Contraception Policy Atlas developed by EPF compares 46 countries by looking at their policies regarding access to contraceptives, including the reimbursement schemes and family planning counselling as well as at the available public online information.
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.
What does it take to meet the need for sexual and and reproductive health services? Guttmacher did the math.
Guttmacher’s recently published 2019 “Adding it Up” report captures the shortages in sexual and reproductive health services in low and middle income countries (LMIC). The research institute calculated what it would take to bridge the gap.