Abid Q. Raja

Minister of Culture and Equality, Norway

As Minister of Culture and Equality, Abid Q. Raja has overall responsibility for coordinating the Government's equality policies at a national level. This includes responsibility for developing new equality and non-discrimination policies, coordinating Norway's implementation of international conventions, as well as international affairs and cooperation on equality.
Abid is currently participating in the development of a number of new policies related to the SheDecides agenda, including a new action plan focused on sexual and reproductive health and rights; a separate proposal on domestic violence coordinated by the Ministry of Justice (expected to launch in autumn of this year); and an extension of the existing ‘Action Plan to Combat Negative Social Control, Forced Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation 2017-2020’.

Abid has for many years been a vocal critic of forced and arranged marriages, having almost been subject to one himself as a young man. In 2010, he was awarded the "Fritt Ord Award" for freedom of speech, which is the The Fritt Ord Foundation's highest distinction.

Tell us briefly why you are passionate about being involved with SheDecides?


1. Tell us briefly why you are passionate about being involved with SheDecides

SheDecides was one of the first counter reactions to the US's reintroduction of the "Global Gag Rule" three years ago. This is why Norway has supported the SheDecides initiative from the very beginning. For me, sexual and reproductive health and rights is all about supporting families and family values, and saving lives. I truly believe that we all can play a role - to speak up for the defence, promotion and advance of sexual and reproductive health and rights of girls and women. Still, these rights are not realized in many parts of the world. Youth friendly health services, birth control and safe and legal abortions are still not accessible for all. Every day, women and adolescent girls die during pregnancy and child-birth.

Last year marked 25 years since ICPD which set an international standard for sexual and reproductive health and rights. 2020, is a major year for gender equlaity. Not only does it marks 25 years since the Beijing-platform for gender equality, it also marks 20 years since the UN resolution 1325 for women, peace and security, that for the first time recognised women's rights as a security issue.

COVID19 has changed everything. The consequences are devastating for women, girls and vulnerable groups. We all have an obligation to step up our efforts now.

 

2. Describe your working to ensure that women and girls can make decisions about their bodies.

Norway commits to protect and promote universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights for all – including girls, youth, and marginalized groups, at both national and international level. In Norway all equality policies require cross sectoral approach. My ministry participates in the development of new policies coordinated by other ministries such as:

  • A new action plan focussing on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), coordinated by the Ministry of Health and Care Services will be launched soon.
  • A new action plan on domestic violence coordinated by the Ministry of Justice is expected to be launched in autumn 2020.
  • The Action Plan to Combat Negative Social Control, Forced Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation 2017-2020 is coordinated by the Ministry of Education and Research. The Ministry has recently started working on a new action plan to continue the efforts from the existing one.

 

3. How does SheDecides link to your work in the Norwegian Government and as Minister of Culture and Equality?

The Government of Norway is a strong supporter of SheDecides because we are a staunch supporter of universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

Politically, Norway commits to strong and continued efforts to protect and promote universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights for all, both nationally and internationally. Norway commits to strengthen access to sexual and reproductive health services for those affected populations in humanitarian response. Protection against sexual gender based violence is an important component of Norway’s humanitarian strategy. Norway will also commit itself to increasing the percentage of bilateral development assistance that has women’s rights and gender equality as a primary or significant goal from 33% to 50%.

Financially, Norway commits to invest approximately NOK 10,4 billion in sexual and reproductive health and rights for the period 2020-2025. This includes approximately 9,6 billion to SRHR for the period of 2020-2025, and NOK 760 million for the period 2020-2023 to eliminate harmful practices. In addition, Norway commits NOK 1 billion for the period 2019-2021 to protection against SGVB and provision of sexual and reproductive health services in humanitarian situations.

In addition to Norway’s substantial investments in girls’ education and global health, we pledged in 2017 to increase our investments in SRHR by NOK 700 million by 2020. This pledge has been reached in 2019, one year early. In 2018 alone, Norway’s total investments in SRHR amounted to close to NOK 1.6 billion.

 

5. Why is it so important we get to a future where SheDecides, without question? How are we going to get there?

Norway stands behind the achievements made in Cairo 25 years ago. The Norwegian Government will stand firm and defend established norms and universal rights and gives high priority to combating all forms of violence and abuse.

Financially Norway is one of the world’s biggest contributors to SRHR. During the Nairobi summit in November 2019, Norway committed to remain a global champion for SRHR both financially and politically.

SRHR is under serious attack both financially and normatively. The attacks that are part of the strong conservative headwinds we are facing from many parts of the world today. In addition we are starting the see the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has seriously exposed societies’ lack of preparedness to respond to and deal with an existing, ongoing and persistent equality challenges – violence against women and girls. The work of civil society and equality and women’s organizations to respond to the situation and protect women and girls is more critical than ever.