The Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released its early figures for development assistance spending across donor countries in 2020. These figures offer the first tangible evidence of the global pandemic’s impact on EU development aid spending. In absolute terms, EU 2020 aid increased by 7.8% (72.7 billion USD) compared to 2019. However, this rise is mainly the result of a fall in Gross National Income (GNI) prompted by the global pandemic. For the nineteen DAC EU Member States, this represented 0.5% of their ODA/GNI ratio – still far below the longstanding international commitment of 0.7%. The EU institutions’ ODA rose by 25.4% in real terms.
Reducing inequalities lies at the heart of UNAIDS’ 2021-2026 new Global AIDS Strategy. It aims to assist and guide every country and community in reaching UNAIDS goals of zero new HIV-infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. A comprehensive framework of actions has been outlined to tackle inequalities and protect human rights in the HIV response. The gaps for HIV prevention, testing, treatment and support can be closed by reducing inequalities. The Strategy’s vision for reducing inequalities and laying the foundation to reach the 2030 targets builds on its three Strategic Priorities: (1) Maximise equitable and equal access to HIV services and solutions; (2) Break down barriers to achieving HIV outcomes;(3) Fully resource efficient HIV responses and integrate HIV in systems for health, social protection, and humanitarian and pandemic responses.
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.
“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.
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.
Sensoa International's annual audit of the expenditures by the Belgian Directorate General for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid (DGD) shows that spending on health and reproductive health in 2019 was at its lowest level in four years. DGD spent a total of 11.08% of its budget on health and reproductive health in 2019, whereas support halted at 13.29% in 2017 and 12.84% in 2016.
Particularly worrying is DGD's declining support for HIV prevention and treatment, for which the budget was cut in half during the previous government term. Support has been falling since 2017, with substantially less attention for HIV in Belgium’s bilateral cooperation and less support for multilateral organisations that take the lead in the global 'HIV response', such as UNAIDS and the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM). Multilateral support did increase in 2019, but not enough to turn the tide.
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.