The European Medicines Agency (EMA) published a positive opinion on the use of the dapivirine vaginal ring for women ages 18 and older in developing countries to reduce their risk of HIV-1 infection. The monthly ring is the first long-acting HIV prevention product and is designed to help address women’s unmet need for new prevention methods given the persistently high rates of HIV they face, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
In September 2015 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, setting forward 17 Sustainable Development Goals, with no less then 169 targets to be achieved by 2030. What progress has been made since?
Gains made in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV could be reversed, with new HIV infections among children up by as much as 162% and setting the clock on AIDS-related deaths back to 2008, a modelling group convened by the World Health Organization and UNAIDS estimated. If no efforts are made to mitigate and overcome interruptions in health services and supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, a six-month disruption of antiretroviral therapy could lead to more than 500,000 extra deaths from AIDS-related illnesses in sub-Saharan Africa in 2020–2021.
The effects of the current health crisis are far-reaching and are still unwinding. But it is clear that the most marginalised will be the hardest hit. Reproductive freedom is not a reality for many women across the globe. For too many women, access to quality family planning still depends on where they live and how much money they make.
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.
Belgium and 57 other countries call for the protection of SRHR and the promotion of a gender sensitive response to the Covid-19 pandemic
In a powerful joint statement, 58 countries, including Belgium expressed their concern about the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls’ human rights, the deepening of existing inequalities and the worsening discrimination of other marginalised groups such as persons with disabilities and people living in extreme poverty.
To raise awareness of the unmet need for family planning, 12 Belgian members of parliament of 9 different political parties revealed the size of their families to the Belgian public. They did so in a joint video message, in which they explained they were free to decide on the size of their family, while 214 million women in the Global South who want to avoid or postpone a pregnancy, cannot do so, because they lack access to contraceptives.
The crisis affects every country, every individual person, but we still need to guarantee a global approach. More than ever, this crisis demonstrates how our lives are interconnected. In other words, a solidary, joint response will be necessary.
Sensoa International works with other organisations, including umbrella organisation IPPF, Belgian health and development organisations to steer the policy of Belgium, other EU member states and partner countries. We inform policymakers and advocate to safeguard sexual and reproductive rights, also in times of Covid-19.
The weakness of healthcare structures in developing countries will now become painfully clear and be a major threat to the global spread of the virus. Together with its partners, Sensoa International is therefore focusing on the importance of strengthening health systems, ensuring the continuity of care, and the promotion of universal healthcare coverage, which should include sexual and reproductive health services and family planning.
Sensoa International advocates to keep up and increase the necessary financial support. Existing official development assistance (ODA) should not be diverted to tackle the current crisis, as this creates new problems. Instead, new funds should be set up to counter the spread of Covid-19 and to address the large-scale side effects of the approach in a spirit of solidarity.
Measures to deal with the pandemic should not result in restrictions of human rights, democracy and the critical role of civil society and media. Jointly with our civil society partners in Belgium and abroad, we are watching and alerting policy makers when human rights, and particularly sexual and reproductive rights are at risk.
Everyone's social life is affected by the corona epidemic. However, many women are forced to work from home now, often in combination with children at home. Even before the crisis, statistics showed that women generally do more unpaid domestic work and have more caring responsibilities than men, including caring for children, the sick and the elderly. With increasing pressure on hospitals and health services, women will inevitably have to meet even more of the growing unpaid care needs. This includes cleaning, preparing food or looking after seriously ill or disabled people.
Every country, both in the global south and north, will have a different answer to this. In general, women and girls will face significant restrictions in safe and timely access to essential sexual and reproductive health services, in particular timely abortion care, post-abortion care and emergency anticonception. Such restrictions disproportionately affect persons belonging to marginalised groups, including women living in poverty, women with disabilities, women belonging to ethnocultural minorities (e.g. Roma women), migrants, stateless women, adolescents and women at risk of domestic and sexual violence.