Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, the Netherlands
Sigrid Kaag worked at the UN Political Affairs Section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1990 to 1993. She subsequently held a series of international positions. From 1994 to 1997 she was the Programme Manager and Head of Donor Relations at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Jerusalem. She then worked at the International Organization for Migration in Geneva from 1998 to 2004. In 2004 and 2005 Mrs Kaag was senior UN adviser in Khartoum and Nairobi. She continued her career at UNICEF, where she held various positions between 2005 and 2010, including Deputy Director of the Programme Division and Chief of Staff in New York, and Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa in Amman. Mrs Kaag then served as Assistant Secretary-General for the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in New York.
From October 2013 to September 2014 Mrs Kaag, as UN Under-Secretary-General, led the mission to eliminate chemical weapons in Syria. After this mission was completed, in 2015, she became Under-Secretary-General in Lebanon with responsibility for all UN activities in the country, specifically the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701. On 26 October 2017, Sigrid Kaag was appointed Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation in the third Rutte government.
Tell us briefly why you are passionate about being involved with SheDecides?
Sigrid Kaag was appointed Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation in the third Rutte government of the Netherlands on 26 October 2017. Sigrid quickly declared her commitment to the SheDecides movement, joining the growing list of champions for girls and women everywhere. “I salute the leadership of my predecessor, Lilianne Ploumen, and other champions who responded at the right moment in the right way," she said. "If you don’t have the choice to determine how you will live with your body, how many children you want, then you are fundamentally hampered…. Too many girls and women are placed in a position of limited choice.” These rights are at the core of an equitable, fair society and they are essential for reaching the SDGs. Minister Kaag says: “Of course the Dutch government will continue to finance SheDecides, but I want to stress that it is not just about money. It is awareness, it is politics and it is the politics of change that need to be sustained. We need to galvanise this movement and make it strong.” Read the full interview below.
1. Tell us briefly why you are passionate about being involved with SheDecides.
For me the ability and power of choice to decide over one’s own body is so fundamental – and it is a right often denied to women. My predecessor, Lilianne Ploumen, responded at the right moment and in the right way. We have to continue to support this fundamental right.
We need to create opportunities and enable women and girls to decide about their bodies, but also create opportunities for education, work. Ultimately it’s all about the SDGs. We need investments but we also need a strong advocacy platform that speaks to the urgent issue of women’s and girls’ choice. Family planning is part and parcel of that.
2. What is the biggest challenge facing women and girls in your region? Why?
It is really complex, there is no single challenge. A lot depends on where you are born and under what conditions. In many development settings, girls and women are placed in a position of limited choice, where their life is being determined by others, mostly the family, and often the males in the household.
What we need to do is to focus on the rights to decide about your body but translate them immediately to the rights to health, education, economic empowerment. An integral package to improve the life of women worldwide. That’s the pathway, because there is never one single and simple answer. The rights that SheDecides focuses on are fundamental. Even if you are highly educated, if you don’t have the choice to determine how you will live with your body, how many children you want, IF you want children, then you are fundamentally hampered.
3. Tell us a story of a moment that drives you to do what you do every day.
I guess it all goes back to the way my mother raised me: I was reminded on a daily basis by her that education, education, education and family planning are everything in life, particularly for women. You are less vulnerable, more independent and it creates your pathway to determine your own future. We are privileged in the Netherlands, but so many girls and women in other countries don’t have access to these rights and services. I believe in an equitable world, in a fair world. Shared prosperity also means greater collective security –and these are issues we can work towards. Not everything is geopolitics. A lot of it is what we aim to do for and with others.
Raised a feminist, I will always remain a feminist.
4. How are we going to get to a future where SheDecides, without question?
The movement was launched at the right moment, with the right voice and tremendous leadership. Now that we are one year on, it is important to determine together what we need to do and how to take it to the next level. There is still so much work to do, we need to consolidate the movement. That means involving ALL governments, particularly also those in ‘the South’ – there’s no point if it is only Western voices that speak. We need to have a shared vision, carried by all. Of course, it is not just about governments – there is a role for the private sector, foundations, civil society but above all citizens – women ánd men. I am a firm believer in the HeforShe movement. Men should play a critical role. This issue is for women but it requires all of society to mobilise.
Of course the Dutch government will continue to finance SheDecides, but I want to stress that it is not just money. It is awareness, it is politics and it is the politics of change that need to be sustained. We need to galvanise this movement and make it strong.