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Free to Decide, Free to Choose: SheDecides at CSW

20th March 2019

SheDecides was present at CSW (the UN Commission for the Status of Women) for the first time this year, with the first event featuring new Champion Minister Marlène Schiappa (Minister of State for Gender Equality and the Fight against Discrimination, France).
The room was so packed it took 30 minutes to make it safe enough to start the  side event called ‘Free to Decide, Free to Choose’, co-sponsored by the governments of France and Sweden, with huge support from Planning Familial, the French IPPF Member association. A video of the fascinating panel discussion is available here.

Schiappa was joined by a stellar panel including 19-year old Planning Familial activist Alice Ackermann; Åsa Lindhagen, Sweden’s Minister for Gender Equality; Chantal Safu Lopusa, Minister for Gender, Children and Family, Democratic Republic of Congo, the US 25x25 young leader Emma Artley, and Pamela Martín García from Grupo Fusa in Argentina.


Marlène Schiappa  gave a robust defence of the right to abortion, reminding participants of the legacy of Simone Veil, stating:

“Je crois que personne ne doit prendre en otage les femmes, instrumentaliser le droit à l’IVG et le droit à disposer de son corps. Ce chantage est inacceptable.” [“No one should take women hostage by withholding from them their right to safe abortion, and by withholding from them their right to decide what to do with their bodies.”]  Minister Schiappa's full speech is available here.

Alice Ackerman, from Youth Sexual Awareness for Europe (YSAFE) pressed the point that France must implement comprehensive sexuality education for young people, stating:

“L’éducation à la sexualité permet aux jeunes surtout aux filles de s’émanciper par l’accès à l’information. Elles sont alors en capacité de connaître et de comprendre à la fois leur corps et la société… Être informée c’est être autonome et indépendante [et] En interdire ou limiter l’accès nous met tout-e-s en danger et renforce ainsi les inégalités.” [“Sex education allows young people, especially girls, to emancipate themselves through access to information. They are then able to know and understand both their body and their society… to be informed is to be autonomous and independent [and] banning or limiting access puts us in danger and reinforces inequalities.” You can read the full speech by Alice Ackerman here.

Sweden’s new Minister for Gender Equality, less than 2 weeks into her role stressed the importance of the movement “Women and girls who suffer, who are denied living their life in freedom, who are being exposed to violence… It is for these women and girls that we are fighting for universal and affordable access to sexual and reproductive health and rights across the world. Our struggle is for them.” You can read the full speech by Minister Åsa Lindhagen here.

Emphasising the extremely high rates of maternal mortality in DRC (846 per 100 000 live births), weak access to modern contraceptives (7.8%) and a high fertility rate (6,6) Minister Chantal Safu Popusa explained that she is working closely with the Health Minister to put in place measures that will advance the Maputo Protocol, and other progressive African agreements, to ensure access to safe abortion care and to ensure full access to comprehesive SRHR services through public health clinics. This she linked to the broader gender equality agenda, saying:

“L’autonomisation complète de la femme ne peut être totale qu’avec un meilleur accès à l’éducation sa participation dans la vie politique et financière ainsi que le respect total de son droit à la sante.” [“The complete empowerment of women can only be achieved with better access to education, greater participation in political and financial life as well as a greater respect for all women’s health rights.”] See the full speech by Minister Chantal Safu Popusa here.

For Emma Artley, the US 25x25 young leader, working at the Center for Reproductive Rights, the legacy of the Cairo Conference, and her grandmother Peggy Curlin who had been on the original US Delegation to ICPD in 1994, was a powerful spur to action and to build global connections through 25x25 and other platforms.

Pamela Martín García spoke of the ongoing struggles in Argentina for access to safe abortion care and emphasised that the movement was redoubling their efforts, and would not be defeated:

“Women for different political parties and social organisations work together, despite their differences, to achieve public policies… The green tide has a clear goal, the autonomy of women… The approval of a law legalising abortion in Argentina is inevitable. Sooner than later, abortion will be legal, safe and free for all”. See the full speech by Pamela Martín García here.