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Here is where we highlight the latest developments and stories of the movement. We call people to account, we applaud others who do the same and we amplify the voices of those who often get locked out of global conversations. You can also find the latest editions of our newsletter. If you've got a story to share - get in touch by email, Twitter or Facebook.

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 five new champions join the shedecides movement

SheDecides has announced five new Champions, who have all played key roles in HIV/AIDS movements, these are:

Princess Mabel van Oranje, Chair of Girls Not Brides

Dr Bernard Haufiku, Minister of Health, Namibia

 Dr Hatsumi Taniguchi, Board Member of the International Confederation of Midwives

Dr Senait Fisseha, Director of International Programmes at Susan Thompson Buffet Foundation

Vuyiseka Dubula, Director at Africa Centre for HIV & AIDS Management

“It is truly inspiring to see so many talented, engaging and passionate people join the SheDecides movement today as Champions,” said, Tikhala Itaye, Chair of the SheDecides movement.

“We are all united by the powerful words etched in our Manifesto: the world is better, stronger and safer when “She Decides”. I am looking forward to working with the new Champions and utilising their respective passions and expertise to create a new normal where SheDecides. Without question.”


la france est de retour! france is back!

The Government of France has pledged 10 million euros in the name of SheDecides - unlocking essential resources for women's sexual rights initiatives around the world!

The announcement was made by French Secretary of State in Charge of Gender Equality, Marlène Schiappa, at the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62) in New York on 14 March.

SheDecides welcomes and salutes the leadership of the French Government in adding their voice to the SheDecides movement by Standing Up and Speaking Out, committing to changing the rules and unlocking resources to ensure that everywhere and everyday SheDecides about her body and her future. Without Question! 

Other leaders must heed the call and also take a bold step to champion the rights of girls and women to decide about their own bodies.

Vivre La France! #SheDecides #ElleDécide #WithoutQuestion

Read more: https://onu.delegfrance.org/La-France-est-de-retour-Le-feminisme-aussi

Le gouvernement de la France a pris la décision audacieuse de rejoindre le mouvement SheDecides, suivant l’exemple de pays tels que le Danemark, la Suède, l'Afrique du Sud, les Pays-Bas, le Canada, la Finlande et beaucoup d'autres pays qui défendent les droits sexuels et reproductifs des femmes et des filles partout dans le monde.

L'annonce a été faite lors de la 62ème session de la Commission sur la Condition de la Femme (CSW62) à New York cette semaine où la Secrétaire d’État Francaise chargée de l’Égalité entre les femmes et les hommes, Marlène Schiappa a promis 10 millions d'euros au nom de SheDecides par  son gouvernement.

SheDecides salue le leadership du gouvernement français qui ajoute sa voix au mouvement SheDecides en se levant et en parlant, en s'engageant à changer les lois et encore plus important, en débloquant des ressources pour assurer que partout et chaque jour, #ElleDecide sur son corps et son avenir. Sans à en repondre! C'est aussi un appel à d'autres Leaders Mondiaux à faire un pas audacieux pour être comptés parmi les Défenseurs des droits des femmes et des filles.

Vivre La France! #SheDécides #ElleDecide #WithoutQuestion


the world puts its weight behind the rights of young women and adolescent girls

8 March 2018

Governments, not-for-profit organisations, community leaders, and business leaders in cities across the world have spent the past few days unpacking and challenging the rules, laws, policies and myths that block young women and adolescent girls from making decisions about their bodies, their lives and their futures. Events to celebrate the first ever SheDecides Day were organised in Afghanistan, Australia, Belgium, India, Kenya, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, Namibia, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland, Uganda, the UK and the US. 

Full media release here.

More about SheDecides Day activities here.


Global gag rule 6 month review - a moment to stand up and speak out

On 15 May 2017 the United States State Department announced that it would conduct a review of the “effectiveness and impact” of the expanded Global Gag Rule (GGR) over the next six-months. Read statement from SheDecides here. 

Dozens of non-governmental organisations, governments and others submitted information and evidence on how, because of this policy, women and girls around the world are being denied their right to decide about their bodies, their lives and their futures.  

The Review was released on 7 February 2018 and can be viewed here.


revised sex ed. guidelines launched.

January 10, 2018

Young people should be provided with all the information they need to learn about their bodies, about healthy relationships and how to have a safe and happy sex life. Without judgement, without question, without fear.

Yesterday the Revised International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education was launched by UNESCO (with UNAIDS, UNFPA, UN Women and World Health Organization (WHO)), presenting evidence-based recommendations advocating for full, comprehensive sex education for all young people. The updated guidance “reaffirms the position of sexuality education within a framework of human rights and gender equality.” It is clear that understanding your body, your rights and your options is essential, and should never be denied. Comprehensive sexuality education is integral to ensuring SheDecides, and we hope these guidelines are embraced and implemented internationally.

Read the full report by UNESCO with UNAIDS, UNFPA, UN Women and World Health Organization (WHO) here.


 

Lilianne Ploumen awarded Machiavelli Prize for creating SheDecides 

January 9. 2018

Congratulations to Lilianne Ploumen for winning the Machiavelli Prize for creating the SheDecides movement! The Dutch prize acknowledges remarkable achievements in the field of public communications.

The jury applauded the pace and determination of the movement, saying: "Within less than six weeks, a worldwide movement of countries, funds and individuals in favour of the self-determination of women and girls has arisen". Massive applause for Lilianne for taking the initiative to stand up, speak out and take us closer to a world where #SheDecides, without question.

Full article for Dutch speakers here and English here.


Happy New Year.

January 1, 2018.

2017 was one rollercoaster of a year. On 21 January, millions of women and men around the world walked in the Women’s March. On 23 January, President Trump signed the expanded Global Gag Rule. The very next day, Dutch Minister Lilianne Ploumen announced the creation of SheDecides and put €10 million on the table.
Since then, we have moved from having those two words as a uniting rallying cry, to a successful conference on 2 March, to a movement with a crystal clear manifesto, signed by 40,000 Friends and 140 organisations.

SheDecides now is led by 36 Champions from all over the world, ranging from ministers to youth leaders who alongside our Friends are committed to Standing Up and Speaking Out, Changing the Rules and Unlocking Resources (€ 390 million so far!).  The time has never been more right to work together to create a new normal: a world where every girl and woman can decide what to do with her body, her life and her future. Without question.

The SheDecides Support Unit wishes all the Friends and Champions a very happy 2018 - filled with action, so that #SheDecides!

 

 

 

Champion Spotlight

Meet the SheDecides champions who are leading the charge toward a reality where every girl and every woman has power over her own body. without question.

HATSUMI TANIGUCHI - Board member of International Confederation of Midwives

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As a midwife, Hatsumi Taniguchi is, naturally, deeply committed to working with women, and for women. Hatsumi is a board member, representing the Asia-Pacific/Western Pacific region, of the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM), which advocates for the rights of women all over the world enjoy their bodies, make their own choices.

ICM comprises 132 member associations in 113 countries, and Hatsumi says they are very keen to engage SheDecides in their communities and countries to continue to shape and grow the SheDecides movement.

“To become a SheDecides Champion is a great honour. Midwives are on the front line of supporting women and girls to make positive decisions about their bodies, advocating for their priorities and needs during the course of the prenatal, antenatal, childbirth and postnatal periods. We stand and speak out with women and girls and defend their right to health.”

Read the full interview below.

 

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

 I am a midwife. The midwife's etymology refers to a person being ‘with women’ - in other words, midwives are professionals who work directly with women to enrich their lives and empower them to support their sexual and reproductive health and human rights. Midwives have a specialised understanding of the health of women and a commitment to make their lives sound. Therefore, the work of midwives – and of ICM as their representative – is naturally aligned with the SheDecides movement.

ICM advocates for the rights of women all over the world enjoy their bodies, make their own choices, and have access to comprehensive sexual education and the full range of comprehensive quality care from midwives regarding their sexual and reproductive health, including instruction and service around menstruation, sexuality, sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), HIV/AIDS, contraception, pregnancy, abortion, childbirth, infertility, gender-based violence, mental health, gender identity, cancer and menopause.


    2.  Describe how you are working hard so women and girls can make decisions themselves about their bodies.

Midwives provide midwifery care everywhere - hospitals, clinics, birthing units, community health centres, and educational facilities – making them one of the most accessible and autonomous health professionals. We consult daily on sexual, reproductive, maternal and newborn health (SRMNH) with girls & women. These consultations include various contents ranging from pregnancy prevention to continuation.

In many parts of the world, midwives are community leaders who can influence and support gender equality and health-seeking behaviour. In Japan, I work alongside many wonderful midwives to encourage and support girls and women to make decisions autonomously and in their best interests. I believe it is of absolute importance to provide unbiased, evidence-based information that is suitable for each person to make informed decisions that will protect their bodies and help them enjoy their lives to the fullest extent. However, many women in the world still fall pregnant due to lack of access to the right information or resources; still give birth without receiving professional care of the midwife; and many still lose many of their lives to preventable complications resulting from inaccurate information, unsafe abortion, pregnancy complications or even some of the more severe STIs. To combat these health markers and achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is important that access to a midwife’s care is understood as a human right, because midwives are the health expert for girls and women.


    3. How does SheDecides link to the work of the International Confederation of Midwives, and why is this link so important?
 

ICM is a global representative body for midwives, which supports the priorities and needs of over 500,000 midwives throughout the world who work to fulfil the SRMNH needs of girls and women in their countries. ICM envisions a world where every childbearing woman has access to a midwife's care for herself and her newborn.

The State of the World’s Midwifery Report (2014) concluded that improved access to midwives for women and girls around the world could cut the preventable maternal and newborn mortality rate by up to two thirds, as well as yield a sixteenfold return on investment with regard to lives saved, lives improved and emergency service used. To make these projections a possibility, ICM supports the capacity building of midwives and SRMNH health systems to ensure that all women have access to competent and professional midwives who are appropriately educated, skilled, regulated and supported to provide quality midwifery care across all settings.

At a global level, ICM is a key stakeholder and partner towards the achievement of the SDGs by 2030. ICM’s work impacts all 17 goals but, in particular, we focus on SDG 3 – Good Health and Wellbeing and SDG 5 – Gender Equality. To achieve these aims and support the proliferation of Universal Health Coverage around the world, ICM recognises the strategic importance of autonomous midwives working wherever women live and need them, regardless of whether that is in a community care setting, birthing centre or the medical system.

4. Tell us a story of a moment that drives you to do what you do every day.

I am a Japanese midwife and I teach at university level in Fukuoka city. The major issues of maternal and child health in Japan is our declining birthrate. Women are increasingly accessing infertility treatment, and experiencing high-risk pregnancies in their 30s. Midwives in Japan are deeply committed to improving health indices at a national level and ensuring pregnancies are safer, well-timed and positive experiences for women and their families.

A few years ago, I investigated this present situation with other midwife educator, researcher, and our midwifery students. We then started a project to address the problem, in partnership with the Fukuoka City Health Department. We lead a seminar and workshop using an originally designed booklet, where we were able to educate young people at the stage of youth on the importance of making positive sexual and reproductive health decisions so that they can be healthy, have responsibility for their own body, and make the decision to have a child at an optimal time.  This seminar was well-received and has become an annual event, celebrating its third successive year this year.

5.  How are we going to get to a future where SheDecides, without question?

Visibility of movements that elevate girls and women need to be prominent in order for their messages to be absorbed into the common consciousness. SheDecides is relatively new, but its message is intuitive. I think that all women and girls, and others with an understanding of human rights, are naturally predisposed to agree with the purpose of SheDecides, but we must ensure that we drive our messaging at all levels of society. We must work in partnership with governments and policy-makers at the top level whilst generating demand and commitment to the cause at community and individual levels. Once women and girls are innately aware of these movements and what they stand for, it is a matter of asking them: How can we give you courage to stand up for your rights, and the rights of others? How can you be supported by our work? And, ultimately, how can we enable you to live your lives more fruitfully?


    6.  Anything else you'd like to add?

When we speak of partnership, the gender element cannot be ignored. Movements focused on the empowerment of girls and women cannot be achieved fully without co-operative efforts with those who hold power – governments, community leaders, and of course, men in general. We cannot work in a silo to achieve our objectives; men must be brave and commit to understanding our objectives and supporting us to achieve them, even when that support is not prominently featured or publicised. Education and co-operation from men is absolutely necessary to ensure that SheDecides.

 

christine stegling - executive director of the international hiv/aids alliance

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“As a human rights activist fighting for rights related to HIV, marginalisation and gender equality and as a woman leader in the HIV movement, it was an obvious decision for me to become a SheDecides Champion. As a mother, auntie and feminist, I feel that being a Champion for SheDecides embodies the lessons and values I’m conveying to my own daughter and other girls and young women in my life; helping to safeguard their right to decide about their bodies, their lives and their futures.”

As thousands of people converge upon Amsterdam for the International AIDS Conference, this week the spotlight is upon SheDecides Champion Christine Stegling, the Executive Director of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance. Christine explains: “An environment that upholds, protects and respects the rights of all people, helps to prevent new HIV infections and enable those living with HIV in all their diversity to live full and productive lives.”

Read the full interview below.

 

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

As a human rights activist fighting for rights related to HIV, marginalisation and gender equality, and as a woman leader in the HIV movement, it was an obvious decision for me to become a SheDecides Champion. As a mother, auntie and feminist, I feel that being a Champion for SheDecides embodies the lessons and values I’m conveying to my own daughter and other girls and young women in my life; helping to safeguard their right to decide about their bodies, their lives and their futures.

During this volatile time where women’s rights and our ability to end AIDS by 2030 is being threatened, the expanded Mexico City Policy has added significance to dis-integrate HIV responses from comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights approaches.

Evidence shows that good access to Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services and an environment that upholds, protects and respects the rights of all people, helps to prevent new HIV infections and enable those living with HIV in all their diversity to live full and productive lives.

2.          Briefly describe how you are working hard so women and girls can make decisions themselves about their bodies.

Having lived and worked in Southern Africa for most of my career - where adolescent girls and young women are 8 times more likely to acquire HIV than their male counterparts and where, for many girls, their first sexual experience is coercive or violent - I have seen first-hand how essential it is to have a comprehensive, person centred approach to working with women and girls.

At the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, we’ve been on the HIV/SRHR integration journey for over 15 years; in 2017 we reached over 2 million people (79% women and girls and almost 15,000 trans people) with comprehensive SRHR and HIV interventions at individual, community, service provider and policy levels. Our experience on the ground shows that for many women and girls, it is often their lack of opportunity or a harmful environment which blocks them from being able to decide when, where and with whom she has sex with – resulting in sexual and reproductive ill-health and increased risk for HIV acquisition.

Our flagship adolescents and young people’s programme READY is building a movement of Resilient and Empowered ADolescents and Young people to claim their sexual and reproductive rights and to shape, deliver and monitor programmes that enable them to make informed healthy decisions about their bodies and enact those decisions in safe and secure family and community settings, and to be able to access quality non-judgmental health services that are tailored to their needs.

3.          How does SheDecides link to the work of the International HIV/Alliance, and your Linking Organisations, at local and global level?

The Alliance secretariat and our national partners (Linking Organisations and Implementing Partners) provide person-centred, comprehensive, rights based programmes with women and girls. In addition to the READY programming mentioned above, the Alliance is working with Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Rosa to address and respond to linkages between Gender Based Violence (GBV)and HIV with and for women in their diversity in the MENA region.

The ‘LEARN’ project will build leadership of women in their diversity to address GBV and through community-led dialogues, generate in-depth understanding about GBV to strengthen advocacy and programmatic responses. This work will galvanise advocacy and lay the groundwork for evidence-based and community driven responses including (but not limited to) direct support to survivors of GBV among women living with and most affected by HIV, advocacy for a better integration of GVB and HIV services, or social norms transformation to prevent GBV.

At a global level, the Alliance Secretariat has refused to comply with the provisions of the expanded Mexico City Policy; and we are conducting research, with the support of the Swedish Government, to better understand the impact of the MCP has on the HIV response.

As one of the first HIV-focused organisations represented amongst the Champions, the Alliance provides a valuable link from women and girls who are most marginalised - such as those living with HIV, selling sex, from diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, and those who use drugs - to SheDecides. They are often the ones who have the least autonomy to decide about their bodies, their lives and their futures due to stigma, discrimination and criminalisation.

    4.       Tell us a story of a moment that drives you to do what you do every day.

I recently had a conversation with a young woman leader living with HIV from one of our READY projects. She was telling me about how in her country there are adolescent girls who are sexually active and who have children and yet, they don’t have the basic knowledge their body – they don’t know what their vagina is or that if they don’t get their period they might be pregnant.

When I was working in Southern Africa, I knew women who had to go to South Africa to obtain a safe abortion because it wasn’t available in their own countries. They would travel at great personal and financial cost to South Africa to access a safe abortion and would often have no support in their community to accompany themselves through this. Some would make that journey after they had a botched/illegal abortion in their own country, which left them with internal injury and haemorrhage.

These are only glimpses of the injustices women and girls are experiencing because of senseless and harmful laws and social norms. These stories illustrate that women and girls are being assaulted throughout their lives with violence and inequality.

I hold these and other women’s stories, as examples of where we as a society fall down. I also look at my daughter and son and I’m hopeful for the future. I am driven by these things – anger, sadness, hope – to do what I do everyday; with the belief that a more kind and just world is possible for everyone. 

    5.       How are we going to get to a future where SheDecides, without question?

Only by challenging and disrupting unequal power dynamics, harmful attitudes and social norms; and protecting, promoting and fulfilling women and girls rights to decide about their bodies we can achieve a world where SheDecides, WithoutQuestion.

 

Typically, in the work that we do we are demanding accountability from governments and policy-makers. At this time, we will only have a future where SheDecides, WithoutQuestion if we hold ourselves, our communities and our leaders to account, including governments and decision-makers. We need to act on all levels – individual, community, institutional and policy – to achieve this vision.

 

In addition to working with women and girls to ensure they have the knowledge and skills to claim their rights and entitlements; we need men and boys to champion the rights of their mothers, sisters, wives and nieces. We all need to stand together in solidarity to combat social and political injustice all over the world, which denies women’s and girls’ right to decide.

    6.       Anything else you'd like to add?

The time is now to work across movements and come together. Let’s put aside territorialism, petty divisiveness and rivalries to be CHAMPIONS together for women’s and girls’ right to decide.

 

 

 

Sigrid Kaag - Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation for the Netherlands

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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 empowermentAn 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.

Tikhala Itaye, Co-Founder, Her Liberty

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Meet Tikhala Itaye, a fierce women’s rights activist from Malawi, co-founder of Her Liberty, SheDecides Youth Champion and member of the governing body. As a young woman who has had her worth repeatedly questioned just because she is a woman, Tihkala reflects on one of such experiences—when an older man approached her in a workshop for sexual favours, claiming that it was how she worked her way into leading such meetings. "I felt disgusted and so vulnerable. The reason I was at that meeting is because I had the expertise, I had the qualification and capability to lead on the set agenda of that meeting. I was speechless and I walked away feeling so inferior. I couldn't believe how this old man who I thought I would look up to, to mentor me, guide me as the only young person or young girl in the room sought sexual favours like I was worthless and just a tool to play around with."

"I have faced many more instances like this when I was in university when a Lecturer threatened to fail me if I didn’t do what he said I should do...The fear of Standing Up Speaking Out and reporting such cases drove me to co-found an NGO called Her Liberty, that sought to empower young girls and women to be confident to SPEAK OUT! Because for far too long women and girls have been silenced, suppressed and I dedicated myself to change this status quo."

Read her full interview below.

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

I am passionate about SheDecides because I am the "She" in SheDecides who lives everyday working hard to seek those opportunities, education, great health and wellbeing in order to fulfil my potential. SheDecides gives me that boldness to step up, Stand Up and Speak Out on the rights of every girl and woman. We have mothers, aunts, sisters and nieces who we care about and we want to see live healthy and empowered lives but because we live in a world that has made that such a challenge, I am passionate about my involvement in a movement that triggers action for the betterment of women and girls.

2.       What is the biggest challenge facing women and girls?

The biggest challenge is that millions of women and girls all over the world do not have the right to decide what to do with their own lives. Many girls and women have been hindered by patriarchal societies that have defined who they should be and what they can do, what they can say and to whom. Young girls have been forced into early marriages because they didn’t have the right to stay in or go to school or the right to choose because of social, cultural and economic circumstances. 

3.       Tell us a story of a moment that drives you to do what you do every day.

I remember a time when a man, 30 years older than me at a meeting I had attended came up to me and asked me for my number and if I was free in the evening to go to his room. I told him, "No." He looked at me and said, "the only reason you are where you are I am sure is because you slept with one of the organisers of the meetings." I felt disgusted and so vulnerable. The reason I was at that meeting is because I had the expertise, I had the qualification and capability to lead on the set agenda of that meeting.  I was speechless and I walked away feeling so inferior. I couldn't believe how this old man who I thought I would look up to, to mentor me, guide me as the only young person or young girl in the room sought sexual favours like I was worthless and just a tool to play around with. I have faced many more instances like this when I was in university when a Lecturer threatened to fail me if I didn’t do what he said I should do...The fear of Standing Up Speaking Out and reporting such cases drove me to co-found an NGO called Her Liberty, that sought to empower young girls and women to be confident to SPEAK OUT! Because for far too long women and girls have been silenced, suppressed and I dedicated myself to change this status quo.

4.       How are we going to get to a future where SheDecides, without question?

Only when every girl and young women can freely decide what they want to do with they lives. When resources in our respective countries are directed to improving the social wellbeing of girls and young women. When individual mind sets all over the world truly value the life of every girl and woman and treat them as equal citizens in society.

5.       Anything else you would love to add?

The is a "He" in "She" Decides so this is not only about girls and women but men and young boys need to part of this movement and we need equal empowerment of young people (girls and boys) to ensure that we create a future where they are equal partners in the work place, at home, and in leadership. Only then will SheDecide

 

Jona Turalde - Youth Activist from the Philippines

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Now we turn the spotlight on Jona Turalde, a young, fearless and powerful voice for women’s bodily autonomy in the Philippines. When Jona is not actively pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology n the University of the Philippines Diliman, she is engaged with the International Youth Council Pilipinas, a youth civil society organization for civic engagement and a member of ACT! 2030 Philippine Alliance.

Jona says she is inspired by the SheDecides movement because it serves as a platform for her to put an end to sexual harassment in public places which she and countless other women and girls face on a daily basis in her country. ‘I know that this does not only happen to me, but also to my friends, my relatives and every woman out there. Even worse. I am strongly eager to work hard because I still hope for a day wherein my 7-year old sister won't experience this kind of harassment. She will never be too scared to fight back.’

She also hopes to see the end of misogyny which according to her is on the rise and quickly becoming the norm. ‘When a young girl or woman is still being told by men what to do about their own body, there is a need to address this kind of thinking…The realization that every woman shall be empowered, is seemed to be neglected by the Filipino people and state. It's always tackled on the side, never been a priority. Equality for women is a long drive to go.’

Read the full interview below.

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

When I first encountered and read the SheDecides manifesto, I said to myself, "Everything that I want to be part of is written in this manifesto". It's the full embodiment of what I believe in and of what I will be doing. SheDecides as a movement covers what a woman shall achieve and shall enjoy in this society. A key to a successful advocacy initiative is inclusivity and sustainability. I can really say that SheDecides as a movement encompasses these all. SheDecides includes everyone from different sectors, cultures, ethnicity, and backgrounds. Every woman from everywhere is being cared for, thought of, and working hard for, so she can freely decide for herself.

It's actually an honor to work with every actor, advocate and stakeholder from all over the world in different regions, standing up and making concrete actions. 

 

    2.       Briefly describe how you are working hard so women and girls can make decisions themselves about their bodies.

In my 3 years of being an advocate, I mainly focus on youth policy advocacy, but girls' and women's advocacy can't be disassociated from these. I was thoroughly exposed to a lot of sexual and reproductive health and rights initiatives in the Philippines. That's why I also became active in consultations and policy briefings and lobbying.

Last year I joined 5 other young girls from different parts of the world in a side event at the World Health Assembly in May 2017 representing Act! 2030, wherein my youth organization International Youth Council Pilipinas is a member of the alliance. It is the Citizen Led Accountability event where adolescents and youth representatives like myself were given a chance to tackle our respective country situations on sexual and reproductive health and rights. 

Being part of the Reproductive Health Law National Implementation Team have helped me tap far-flung communities and make concrete actions and suggestions as a youth representative inside our Ministry of Health. It has truly helped me represent the youth in women and SRHR issues.

Also, being part of YIELD for AYSRHR , a youth advisory group that targets generating informed guidelines for stakeholders and actors in investing and making future action for SRHR intiatives, made me work by doing focus group discussions here in the Philippines to be included in the international research that the group has been crafting.

Lastly, as part of the Women's Month and SheDecides anniversary, we are working on a summit called #YES4HER to celebrate girls and women, engaging youth actors from different parts of the Philippines. This will be on March 2nd this year.

 

    3.       What is the biggest challenge facing women and girls in your region? Why?

In my opinion, the biggest challenge in our country is sustaining the empowerment of young girls and women who will become future leaders who have the ideals of equality, equity and justice especially these times when misogyny is on the rise and has the tendency of becoming a norm. When a young girl or woman is still being told by men what to do about their own body, there is a need to address this kind of thinking.

The realization that every woman shall be empowered seems to be neglected by the Filipino people and state. It's always tackled on the side, and has never been a priority. 

Equality for women has a long drive ahead. 

    4.       Tell us a story of a moment that drives you to do what you do every day.

This one is a very personal experience for me. I always commute when I go to a lot of places here in the Metro. We ride jeepneys wherein 8 to 10 people are sitting side by side next to each other. Very close to each other, arm to arm, leg to leg, skin to skin even sweat to sweat. This has not only happened once but a couple of times for many years. When I am seated beside a man, afterawhile I can feel that he slowly touches my leg, and then one time a guy slowly aimed to touch my private part. I can't shout or even fight back for I know i that in this situation, I can be in more trouble. 

I know that this does not only happen to me, but also to my friends, my relatives and every woman out there. Even worse. 

I am strongly eager to work hard because I still hope for a day wherein my 7-year old sister won't experience this kind of harrassment. She will never be too scared to fight back. 

 

    5.       How are we going to get to a future where SheDecides, without question?

This is an open letter to everyone especially to the youth. 

Wisely use social media as a campaign tool to productively make the people realize the need to voice out women's issues. Stregthen and lobby a standardized and well- implemented Comprehensive Sexuality Education in schools. Be a catalyst and changemaker in the policy drafting, consultations to further influence stakeholders in prioritizing women issues such as teenage pregnancies, rape, sexual harrassment, violence against women. Tap everyone who are involved from everywhere, from the city, far flung communities to stand up and speak out, share narratives and continously help in capacity building. Plan, initiate, advocate and be part of a movement that ensures that She decides for her future without question. 

 

Lina Abirafeh - Director, Institute for Women's Studies in the Arab World, Lebanese American University

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Lina Abirafeh is a SheDecides Champion and Director of the Institute for Women's Studies in the Arab World at the Lebanese American University. Lina has spent over 20 years working on Gender-Based Violence prevention and response in a range of humanitarian and emergency settings. This is where she came to understand that more than many other emergency services, women and girls need to protect and control their own bodies first. Today she works to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment through the intersection of academia and activism across the 22 Arab countries.

Lina laments on the state of gender equality in the Arab region – one plagued by patriarchy, and the rising power of conservative movements. The message of bodily autonomy is urgent here. But in spite of the challenges, she is hopeful about the future. ‘I have to remain cautiously optimistic – with a belief that equality is possible, even if it doesn’t materialize in my lifetime. I will keep finding every possible way to do it – from my work to my activism to my writing and whatever other means available to me…we MUST get to a future where SheDecides’ she says. ‘And to do so we need to take the anger that has been simmering and turn this into action’.

Read her full interview below.

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

Bodily autonomy and integrity for women underlies everything that we do – everything that we are trying to achieve. This is the cornerstone of the feminist movement which is also the most contested and hardest to win. But it opens the door for all the other pieces of work that we must do – ensuring women’s access to health and education, engaging women in politics, decision-making, leadership, the economy – none of which are possible without the right to decide our own bodies FIRST.

I am passionate about this because to me it is a no-brainer – something non-negotiable and not up for discussion. EVERYONE has the rights to their own body. And yet, it seems like since the beginning of time, men have made decisions about women’s bodies – everything ranging from their reproductive functions to the preferred length of their hair. How did we allow it to go this far?! I think it’s time we all stood up and said: ENOUGH! SheDecides.

2.     Briefly describe how you are working hard so women and girls can make decisions themselves about their bodies.

I’ve spent 20 years working on gender-based violence prevention and response in a range of humanitarian emergencies. In those settings, I saw that women and girls need to protect and control their own bodies first – more than many other emergency services. Working on GBV is considered life-saving – and sexual and reproductive health and rights exists together with this life-saving work. And now I’m in academia – at the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World. We work at the intersection of academia and activism to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment across the 22 Arab countries. In this context, the message of bodily autonomy is even more urgent.

3.     What is the biggest challenge facing women and girls in your region? Why?

We know that NO country in the world has achieved full gender equality, but look at the Global Gender Gap Report, or the Women Peace and Security Index – this region ranks last all the time. We are challenged by all forms of insecurity, plagued by patriarchy, and suffocating under conservative movements that are gaining power. We’re even seeing a backlash against women’s rights and freedoms.

In the region we are in a state of perpetual insecurity – either full-blown conflict, or socio-political and economic challenges, or all of this combined. In these settings, women’s rights are the first to be stripped and the hardest to revive. Research shows that the biggest predictor of peace in a country is not economics or politics, but how the country treats its women. We have a long way to go!

At the Institute we don’t stop fighting – addressing critical issues like GBV in the region, what’s holding Arab women back from equality, violence, inequalities and challenges for Arab women, and repeal of Lebanon’s Article 522, the so-called “marry-your-rapist” law. We have a lot of work to do.

But the underlying message is this: unless we’re addressing inequalities everywhere, we will achieve equality nowhere.

4.     Tell us a story of a moment that drives you to do what you do every day.

I have a niece – she’s not quite 4. I think when you have a small person in your life – and certainly a small female person! – you want to drive forward change faster. I want to see results in my lifetime – but not for me! I want it for her. I want her to have full freedom and bodily integrity and equality and the ability to have every choice open to her – without socio-cultural expectations, restrictions, limitations. I want her to NEVER question her right to her own body and her own life. She must have access to every place and space – from the highest political office to the street-corner market – with the same sense of entitlement that men feel today. I want her to laugh and think that our lives of inequality are outdated and old-fashioned, and a thing of the past. I want to bury those inequalities in history – and build a future my niece deserves.

5.     How are we going to get to a future where SheDecides, without question – particularly in the Lebanon context.

We have a very young population in the Arab region, which presents a lot of potential for change. We need to reach those people now – quickly! – before we lose them. It’s easy for them to feel disillusioned. The region deals with so many challenges.

And at the same time, we’re facing massive global regress. These setbacks also play out in the region. Last year I examined the implications for women in light of the administration in the US – and the news wasn’t good. One year later, he’s proven to be a catastrophic emergency for women, stripping back rights and denying fundamental freedoms at every turn. And yet, without the beast, we would have not birthed the beauty that was the feminist resistance on 21 January. Of course, our fight was always there, but the Women’s March and SheDecides and MeToo and so many initiatives are now alive - and enraged - because of this political transition.

It has been extraordinary being a part of this new invigorated movement. We MUST get to a future where SheDecides – and to do so we need to take the anger that has been simmering and turn this into action. There is global momentum – and the region is catching on slowly. And there are small tastes of victory. I hope this justice is contagious! I want the young people of this region to see that equality, rights, justice can win. They need to see these victories to believe it is possible – and to have the courage to continue this fight!

6.     Anything else you'd like to add?

It’s easy to be cynical – and I am, quite often! But I have to remain cautiously optimistic – with a belief that equality is possible, even if it doesn’t materialize in my lifetime. I will keep finding every possible way to do it – from my work to my activism to my writing (LinaSays) and whatever other means available to me.

I’ve never done anything but this – and I won’t do anything else. This is a life-commitment – and the only way I’m willing to go is forward.

 

ALEXANDER DE CROO - DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER OF BELGIUM

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SheDecides Champions are committed to creating a world where every girl and every woman has power over her body. This month the spotlight is upon one of the movement’s first Champions: Alexander De Croo, Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister.

Minister De Croo is a staunch promoter of women’s rights and was a key organiser of the first SheDecides pledging conference in Brussels (2 March 2017). Recently at the European Development Days, he reaffirmed his government’s position as fierce advocates for gender equality by pledging further 3 million for SheDecides.

“Men shouldn’t be afraid of gender equality. When both men and women are truly free to exploit their full potential, it will benefit all of us […]. That is why I call myself a proud feminist"

Read the full interview with Minister De Croo below!

  

1.           Tell us what drove you to join SheDecides right from the start?

I immediately joined SheDecides because I was shocked that a group of elder men, in a comfortable office in Washington, decided on the lives of millions of women all over the world. By reinstating the Mexico City Policy, President Trump deprived women and girls, often living in challenging circumstances, of information and services essential for their health, their socio-economic situation and their personal development. SheDecides was a prompt reaction to this decision, but very quickly became a broad and positive movement for women’s rights and particularly their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). SRHR is about a lot more than abortion. It includes comprehensive sexuality education, crucial for young girls to understand their bodies, to learn how to experience respectful sexual relations, how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases. It means access to modern contraceptives for effective family planning.  It ensures that pregnant women have access to prenatal services and that newborns receive the appropriate neonatal care. Investing in sexual and reproductive health and rights for women is the best way to ensure that every child is wanted and no abortion is needed. In Belgium abortion is legal and we have one of the lowest abortion rates in the world.

2.           What is the biggest challenge facing women and girls?

The biggest challenge for women and girls is to make truly free choices. To choose what they want to study, where they want to work, who they want to marry, how many children they want. In many countries in the global South girls are forced to marry at an early age and have children far too young, which jeopardizes their school career and their whole further professional career. It impacts their autonomy for the rest of their lives. But also in Western countries where gender equality has made huge progress, we see that girls are affected by gender stereotypes and gender roles. Women bear the brunt of unpaid household work, work part time to combine work and care for the children. That affects their income, their career, their pension later on. Although not so clearly visible as in some other countries, girls and women in the West are also limited in the choices they make. There is still a lot to do before we achieve true gender equality and of course men have a crucial role to play. It is a challenge for both men and women.

3.           Tell us a story of a moment that drives you to do what you do every day.

In February 2015, as new minister of International Development, I went on my first field trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In Goma, I visited a refugee camp called Mugunga where I sat down with  a group of women. What they told me impressed me deeply. These women were obliged to leave the camp to find water and fetch wood, but they were afraid to do so. With good reason. When they left the camp they often fell victim of sexual violence. These women told me horrifying stories of abuse and rape. With dramatic consequences. They saw their choices restricted, their vulnerability increased and their future compromised. That moment, that encounter, strengthened my conviction to make human rights, and particular women’s rights, one of the corner stones of my development policy in the years to follow.

4.           How are we going to get to a future where SheDecides, without question?

I think the three pillars of the SheDecides movement are equally important. UNLOCK RESOURCES: donor countries should stay committed and pledge funding for SheDecides, but domestic resource mobilisation is just as important.  All governments should realise that investing in women and girls is the key to development of any society. Development aid can never achieve long lasting results without the commitment of local governments. That is why CHANGE THE RULES is crucial, in all countries. And lastly STAND UP, SPEAK OUT is a task for all of us. Governments, community leaders, civil society organisations, public figures and individuals, men and women together, we all have to reach out and convince the world. We should unite and show that this movement is stronger than other currents that wish to restrict the free choices of women.

5.       Anything else you would like to add?

Men shouldn’t be afraid of gender equality. When both men and women are truly free to exploit their full potential, it will benefit all of us. I believe that we will not be able to face current challenges such as climate change, globalisation, migration and job creation in times of digitalisation and artificial intelligence if we waste the talent of half of the population. That’s why I call myself a proud feminist!

 

 

 

Lilianne Ploumen - SheDecides Founder and Dutch Member of Parliament

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Today we turn the spotlight on Lilianne Ploumen, SheDecides founder and Member of Parliament of the Netherlands. When President Trump signed the Global Gag Rule in January 2017, Ploumen, then Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation took a bold step to say ‘He doesn’t get to decides about women’s bodies…She Decides’. These two words began as a rallying cry, then a call to action, a hashtag, and just six weeks later, a conference where which saw over 200 million dollars pledged to organizations that were affected by the Global Gag Rule.

Ploumen reflects on two stories that push her to drive for change every day. One of them about Nabirye from Uganda, married off as a teen, dropped out of school and now with 3 children, and the other about 11 year old Akhi from Bangladesh, married off as teen as well but after an intervention, a decision was made by her family allowing her to not get pregnant before she could finish secondary school:

"Let me be clear: both these girls’ stories upset me. No underage girls should be married off, yet many thousands are. And in my perfect world, only Akhi and nobody else would make decisions with regards to Akhi’s body - not her husband, not her in-laws, and no one else. But that perfect world is still far off. For too many women, others stand in the way of them exercising their full autonomy. Millions of girls and women are not the true masters of their own bodies. And that needs to change! Investing in women’s right to decide over their own bodies is not only the right thing to do, it is also the smartest investment one can make."

Full Interview below.

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

On one of his first days in office, the freshly sworn in president of the United States signed a document that would have catastrophic consequences for girls and women all over the world. The global gag rule directly affects the ability of girls and women to decide what happens to their bodies. And I sprang into action, hoping that many who believe that girls and women should be free would support my initiative. 

SheDecides began as a rallying cry. It was a call to action for all those who shared a visceral desire to do something. It then became a hashtag, and just six weeks later, there was a conference where we saw 200 million dollars pledged to organisations that were affected by the Global Gag Rule. Brave, tireless, and brilliant organisations and individuals have been working on matters concerning girls’ and women’s bodily autonomy and comprehensive health care for decades. And suddenly, the rest of the world was paying attention, too. Her right to decide came into the centre of a political conversation and suddenly we were embracing a new energy and a new language that brings more and more people, from all walks of life, on board to embrace the idea of SheDecides.

 

What is the biggest challenge facing women and girls?

Can I rephrase this question into: what are the opportunities if the world invests in women? Look at what can be achieved by investing in women’s rights. Women represent the largest source of untapped economic potential. The McKinsey Global Institute think-tank estimates that advancing women’s equality could add $12 trillion to global growth by 2025. Closing the gender gap would be the smartest investment the world has ever made. Knowledge about sexual health and contraceptives helps prevent teenage pregnancy and its many consequences. Girls would not drop out of school — we know that each additional year of schooling increases girls’ future earnings by 10-20 per cent. What is more, the benefits of modern contraceptives are incontestable. An estimated 214m women in developing countries would use contraceptives if they had them. Investing in contraception yields a very high return: availability of birth control means, for instance, fewer teenage pregnancies and school dropouts, fewer unsafe abortions and maternal deaths, lower overall healthcare costs and more productive years for women. We would all benefit if the world would invest in women’s rights.

 

Tell us a story of a moment that drives you to do what you do every day.

Here is the story of Nabirye, a young Ugandan woman. Her mother had eight children, and Nabirye was number six. Her parents couldn’t afford school fees for all of their children, so Nabirye dropped out of primary school. She was married off in her teens, and now, at 20, she already has 3 children of her own. It was Nabirye’s dream to become a teacher. Had she grown up in a smaller family, she would have been able to finish school. Would you say Nabirye had a fair chance to discover and fulfil her potential? I wouldn’t. Nabirye herself thinks it’s important to educate young people about the benefits of having smaller families and how to plan their pregnancies accordingly.

Now compare Nabirye’s story with that of a young girl, Akhi, from Bangladesh. Akhi’s parents couldn’t provide for her and she was married off at the age of eleven. She could well have dropped out of school - her seventeen-year old sister-in-law already had two children. Thankfully, a local organization called IMAGE was able to coach Akhi, her young husband and her in-laws. Together, they decided that Akhi would not get pregnant before she could finish secondary school.

Let me be clear: both these girls’ stories upset me. No underage girls should be married off, yet many thousands are. And in my perfect world, only Akhi and nobody else would make decisions with regards to Akhi’s body - not her husband, not her in-laws, and no one else. But that perfect world is still far off. For too many women, others stand in the way of them exercising their full autonomy. Millions of girls and women are not the true masters of their own bodies. And that needs to change!

 

How are we going to get to a future where SheDecides, without question?

There is both an easy and a complicated answer to the question: norms and values, laws, codes and habits are preventing many women from being who they can be, from being the masters of their own fate and their own bodies. These written and unwritten rules have to change. And here is where I ask everyone to do their part: stand up and make your voice heard, be in solidarity, call on your governments and organise for change!

 

Jovana Rios — Member, EWEC Steering Group, Panama

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Jovana Rios is a SheDecides Champion and women’s rights advocate from Panama who wears several hats. In addition to serving as Board Chair of IPPF/Western Hemisphere Region, Jovana is also a member of IPPF’s governing council, Vice President of the Panamanian Association of Family Planning (APLAFA) and member of the Every Woman Every Child (EWEC) Steering Group.

Jovana reflects on her teenage years when many of her classmates got pregnant, faced discrimination and dropped out of school.  “I knew I had to do something and fortunately, I was invited by a young volunteer woman to become a peer educator”. She is passionate about SheDecides because it can help create a life free from any kind of violence for women and girls everywhere. “I cannot stop what I do, because there is still so much to be done”.

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

I am passionate about being involved with SheDecides because it is a movement that represents my values. I am glad to support a movement that is working hard so women and girls exercise their rights; make decisions about their bodies, are able to enjoy a healthy and prosperous live, free from any kind of violence. 

2.       Briefly describe how you are working hard so women and girls can make decisions themselves about their bodies.

I serve as a member of IPPF’s governing council, and I am also the Chair of the Board of Directors for IPPF/Western Hemisphere Region.  In both of these capacities, I have been a steadfast advocate for the health and rights of Young people, particularly for adolescent girls.

In addition, I am also a member of the High Level Steering Group of Every Woman, Every Child, and Every Adolescent, where I lead efforts to place the rights of young women and girls at the center of global efforts to promote gender equity and sustainability. 

At the local level, I am the Vice President of the Panamanian Association of Family Planning (APLAFA).  We all work very hard in APLAFA to promote sexual rights and provide Sexual and Reproductive Health services, particularly for women.

3.       What is the biggest challenge facing women and girls in your region? Why?

In my region women and girls face many challenges, but I think Gender Based Violence and inequality are the biggest ones.

Moreover, Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) is not available in most schools and while many programs have been put in place, the eradication of inequalities as well as access to CSE in every school are still pending matters.  

4.       Tell us a story of a moment that drives you to do what you do every day.

I remember that when I was a teenager, many of my classmates got pregnant and faced discrimination. Some of them dropped out school. I knew I had to do something and fortunately, I was invited by a young volunteer woman to become a peer educator.

I still remember the plight of my classmates, and I have seen many other young women face the same difficulties. That is why I cannot stop doing what I do, because there is still so much to be done. 

5.       How are we going to get to a future where SheDecides, without question – particularly in the Panama context.

We need to ensure that adolescents in Panama have access to Comprehensive Sexuality Education so they are empowered. APLAFA recently launched a campaign called “#infosexualparatodos” or sexuality education for all, so that young people can access the information they need by taking advantage of social media.

But we need to work even harder with different movements so everybody recognizes that girls, boys and young people are right holders, and ensure they have the opportunities to achieve their full potential.

6.       Anything else you'd like to add?

I am so honored to work with SheDecides and contribute to create a better world, particularly for women and girls.

 

Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Health, South Africa

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Dr Aaron Motsoaledi is the Minister of Health of the Republic of South Africa. He is one of the three Leading SheDecides Champions, alongside Victoria Fuentes, Executive Director for MEXFAM and Mr Kai Mykkänen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development, Finland.

Minister Motsoaledi draws the strong link between SheDecides and the She Conquers campaign, led by South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. She Conquers is a campaign focused on 22 Districts with the worst outcomes for young women with high rates of HIV, early pregnancy, violence and drop-out rates from school. It aims to empower young women to make decisions that will improve their sexual and reproductive health, to reduce their vulnerability to violence and improve their educational and economic position.

Talking about the SDGs he says ‘we cannot achieve these global goals if women and girls are not an active part of development. And for women to be an active part of development, they must have control over their own bodies.’

Read Minister Motsoaledi’s full interview below.

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

I believe in the fundamental concept of SheDecides, which is a world where every girl and woman can decide what to do with her body, her life, her future. The SheDecides movement is shaping itself into something that is more powerful than words, policies or slogans. It can be the defining change in how we address gender equality. The Sustainable Development Goals demand real change – we know that we cannot achieve these global goals if women and girls are not an active part of development. And for women to be an active part of development, they must have control over their own bodies.

2. Briefly describe how the South African Government is working hard so women and girls can make decisions themselves about their bodies.

The principles of South African democracy are enshrined in our Constitution, which among other things enjoins the government to provide good quality health care to all citizens and guarantees all citizens the right to reproductive health. SheDecides builds upon the She Conquers campaign, which was launched by our Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2016. She Conquers is a campaign focused initially on 22 sub-districts with the worst outcomes for young women, with high rates of HIV, early pregnancy, violence and drop-out rates from school. It aims to empower adolescent girls and young women to make decisions that will improve their sexual and reproductive health, to reduce their vulnerability to violence and improve their educational and economic position.

3. What is the biggest challenge facing women and girls? Why?

The rights of women and gender equality have always been central in our policies and we worked hard to protect the rights of girls and women. Unfortunately, women and girls continue to face many challenges and barriers and many fail to reach their full potential. While HIV is being well managed in the country, rates of new HIV infection are stubbornly high among young women, as is poor access to contraception and high rates of early pregnancy. And the levels of violence against women and girls are unacceptably high. We must do more to involve men and boys in the effort to end this. South Africa recognises that there are areas in which we have further to go in achieving equality for women in our own country, and we will join arms with others to achieve this essential change.

4. How are we going to get to a future where SheDecides, without question - in the South African context?

The government of South Africa will strive to protect the rights of women and girls to make decisions about her body, to ensure these rights are fulfilled and to continue to move the agenda forward. We are guided by our constitution and we will redouble our efforts to protect the rights and health of women and girls. And we will work in partnership with all stakeholders - at national, regional and global level to ensure that barriers and challenges are confronted and addressed. Only last week  we circulated to the SADC Ministers of Health a new scorecard to track progress towards the vision of SheDecides which provides a set of core indicators to track progress of the Maputo Plan of Action, 2016-2030 for the Operationalisation of the Continental Policy Framework for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. We are firmly committed to showing leadership at home, and in our region. We know that lasting change will only happen when we achieve a new normal, a world where every girl and woman can decide what to do with her body, her life, her future.

Mr. Kai Mykkanen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development, Finland

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Minister Mykkänen makes a direct link between Finland’s domestic success - moving from poverty to prosperity – and the country’s strong support for the values and vision of SheDecides. One of the largest donors to the SheDecides movement, contributing €20m at the conference in March 2017, Finland sees gender equality as the core driver of successful societies. In his interview, looking back at Finland’s progress towards becoming one of the world’s strongest promoters and defenders of gender equality, the Minister credits the success to his country’s fierce commitment by establishing a determined gender policy through the decades, and also for passing and implementing laws which have advanced the rights of women and girls. ‘Today’ he says, ‘Finland is a high income country where all citizens have access to services. At the dawn of our independence a hundred years ago, we started to make investments to improve the status of women as well as maternal and child care. For example, maternity and child health clinics were introduced.’

Read the rest of his Interview below.

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

SheDecides is a powerful initiative to build global political support and rally funds for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. The idea of governments, foundations, CSOs, individuals and other stakeholders joining forces to advocate for the right of women to decide freely and for themselves whether, when, and how many children to have, has tremendous potential to empower all women and girls. Globally gender inequality is one of the greatest problems hindering the achievement of the sustainable development goals. Every two minutes, a woman dies in pregnancy or childbirth, and globally over 200 million women do not have access to contraceptives. Maternal mortality is one of the leading causes of death among 15-19 year olds. Almost all these women and girls could be saved if they had access to Sexual and Reproductive Health services and rights.   

2.       Briefly describe how the Finnish Government is working hard so women and girls can make decisions themselves about their bodies.

The key factor for Finland’s success in its rise from poverty to prosperity was the emphasis on gender equality. Our history shows that enhancing the rights and the status of women and girls and their opportunities to participate strengthens the society as a whole, and is a key factor for sustainable development. Finland´s actions are diverse in this field ranging from promoting women and girls´ education and skills development, promoting active participation in the labor force, providing women with better access to basic services, improving their involvement in political decision-making, and ensuring that women enjoy their right to make decisions, which affect their own lives. In practice, Finland works together with its partners to promote the capacity of countries to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights of women and girls including Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, and to remove obstacles to their realization.   

3.       What is the biggest challenge facing women and girls? Why?

It is the multiplier effect that often takes place when Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights are not provided and/or respected, and when women cannot decide for themselves whether, when and with whom they have children. An early marriage or adolescent pregnancy often ends a girl’s education which makes it harder for her to find decent work. When Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights are not respected, girls and women miss education and employment opportunities. Concerted efforts are needed to economically empower women. Lack of sufficient Sexual and Reproductive Health services and rights means that for millions of women pregnancy is a serious health risk with potentially long lasting impacts on their opportunities in the future. For girls pregnancy is always a health risk. By providing Sexual and Reproductive Health services and protecting their rights, we save millions of lives, and create an enabling environment for sustainable development.

4.       Tell us a story of a moment that drives you to do what you do every day.

One year ago I visited Kibera, the biggest slum in Nairobi. There I had the possibility to acquaint myself with the project of a local Civil Society Organisation which Finland supported. The project gives legal aid to thousands of women in combating domestic violence. I was deeply moved by hearing the stories and seeing the circumstances where domestic violence is rather a rule than an exception, and where women had no possibility to get any justice for the violent behavior they faced. In the modern world we cannot turn a blind eye to violence against women.

5.       How are we going to get to a future where SheDecides, without question - in the Finnish context.

Some seventy years ago Finland was a post-conflict developing country. Enhancing gender equality, including Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, has required a determined gender policy through the decades and passing and implementing laws which have advanced the rights of women and girls and promoted gender equality. Today, Finland is a high income country where all citizens have access to services. At the dawn of our independence a hundred years ago, we started to make investments to improve the status of women as well as maternal and child care. For example, maternity and child health clinics were introduced. Today, Finland is among the countries with lowest maternity and infant mortality rates. The clinics also provide family support to both parents. In Finnish schools, children learn about Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights as part of the health education. It has brought concrete results. For example, the number of unplanned pregnancies has decreased. We think that Comprehensive Sexuality Education is a human right.

6.       Anything else you'd like to add?

Today, women are actors in the global economy contributing to the economy as workers, entrepreneurs, managers, and leaders in an unprecedented way. If women are given the opportunity to decide whether, when, how many and with whom they have children, they have the potential to be economically empowered. Recent studies show that female labor participation decreases with each additional child by about 15% among women aged between 25 and 39. When women and girls have access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, protection from violence, parental leave and child care support, they are in a better position to find decent work and remain economically active. Women´s education is widely recognized as central to their economic empowerment. For example, the lack of access to Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights can have significant implications for women´s future economic aspirations. If women and girls do not have access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, we will not achieve sustainable development goals by 2030.

It is good to bear in mind that also in Finland more should be done in achieving gender equality in the labour market, regardless of the fact that the Nordic countries have traditionally been forerunners in gender equality. In Finland, attitudes are changing, but women still do the major part of the household work and they stay far longer at family leaves compared to men, which hinders the possibility for young women to find a job. Additionally, women move on slower in their careers because they still have the main responsibility of taking care of their families. On average, women get smaller pensions than men because the income from their whole career is smaller. At the moment the Government of Finland is preparing a family leave reform. I wish that we will find a way to move forward from the barriers arising from the traditional role models towards truly free choices between the roles of mothers and fathers.

Patrick Mwesigye - Founder and Executive Director of the Uganda Youth and Adolescents Health Forum

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"We shall only get to the future where SheDecides when we learn to promote, protect and enhance the fundamental rights of women and girls and create a supportive policy and social environment that support women and girls to thrive, survive and transform."

Meet Patrick Mwesigye, a tireless activist and youth leader from Uganda who is dedicating his life’s purpose to enhancing the reproductive rights of women and girls.

Read his full interview below

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

I believe that all human beings including women and girls should have the freedom to exercise their fundamental rights of deciding freely and for themselves about their sexual lives, including whether, when and with whom and how many children they want to have. Regardless of several efforts by various stakeholder and partners, negative cultural, traditional and beliefs as well as conservative leaders have denied millions of millions of women and girls from exercising their reproductive rights.

SheDecides unlike many other Movements has become a rallying call for activists, young people, leaders and funders to stand up as a matter of urgency, speak out, change the rules and unlock resources to protect the rights, health, safety and livelihoods of millions of women and girls around the world.

It is for this reason that I am passionate on being involved with SheDecides because I want women and girls to decide so we can make the world better, stronger and safer for everybody.

2.         What is the biggest challenge facing women and girls?

Today women and girls face multiple devastating challenges both socially and economically which continue to make them vulnerable to stigma and discrimination, preventable deaths disabilities and ill health. Today pregnancy and child birth-related complications are the leading causes of deaths for many adolescent girls and young women.  

Women and girls are denied access to contraceptive services, Comprehensive Sexuality Education while still being undermined, discriminated against by many traditional societies and looked upon at as sex objects without agency. Denying women and girls their sexual rights has made them vulnerable to early and unwanted pregnancies and HIV infection especially among adolescent girls.

Lack of access to menstruation with dignity is also another challenged faced by many unprivileged girls form poor backgrounds. Basic necessities like sanitary towels, washing and disposable facilities are not widely available causing many girls opt to miss school during their periods. These are unacceptable in 2018.

3.         Tell us a story of a moment that drives you to do what you do every day.

In 2015, I was in the field for a community drive aimed at creating demand for SRHR services among young women, when I met Nalongo. At 15, Nalongo was already a mother of one year old twins that she had a year earlier. Both the mother and babies looked malnourished and Nalongo had never used any contraceptives, neither did she know her HIV status.   We referred to her to a youth friendly clinic that serves majority of Uganda’s Most at Risk populations. Here, she was tested for and cleared of HIV, as well as educated and put on long lasting reversible contraception.

Nalongo shortly trained for and became one of our peer educators. Today she is healthy, and serves as a senior peer educator, educating other girls on contraception use, pregnancy prevention and HIV. She also teaches her peers through community peer support groups about safe motherhood, breast feeding and proper nutrition for mothers and babies. Nalongo also refers girls to clinics in Uganda that provide safe abortion services and post abortion care support. She has now been trained in fashion design and is currently engaged in the production of re-usable sanitary towel with support from UYAHF.

Nalongo’s story drives me to reach out to many other girls to empower them to live quality lives with equity, dignity and opportunities to realize their full potential.

4.    How are we going to get to a future where SheDecides, without question?

We shall only get to the future where SheDecides when we learn to promote, protect and enhance the fundamental rights of women and girls and create a supportive policy and social environment that support women and girls to thrive, survive and transform.

Victoria Fuentes - Executive Director of MEXFAM

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Victoria Fuentes is the Executive Director of Mexfam - a Mexican civil society organisation dedicated to improving the sexual and reproductive health of the Mexican population through provision of quality health services, mainly sexual and reproductive health, and comprehensive sexuality education with a focus on gender, rights and citizenship building. 

Victoria is a Mexican/American citizen with a BA in International Relations (Technical University of Lisbon, Portugal) and a post-graduate degree in Strategic Studies. Her work experience also includes: the National Autonomous University of Mexico, IPPF's Resident Coordinator in Mexico and Senior Programme Officer for UNFPA. 

Victoria is currently one of our three leading SheDecides champions, along with Mr. Kai Mykkänen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development, Finland and Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, Minister of Health, Republic of South Africa. She is a fierce, fearless advocate for girls and women - particularly in Mexico and Latin America. She answered the below questions about her activities in support or girls and women, and what drives her to do what she does everydayThank you, Victoria Fuentes, for your commitment as a SheDecides champion.

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

In my particular case, this incredible movement presents a unique opportunity to once again place the needs and context of women and girls from Latin America and the Caribbean in the international thoughts and commitments.

    2.       Briefly describe how MEXFAM is working hard so women and girls can make decisions themselves about their bodies. 

Mexfam has been a key actor for many years in terms of advocacy for sexual and reproductive health and rights for adolescents, not only by helping track government commitments, but by ensuring that necessary funds are allocated and actually disbursed for planned operations.

Mexfam has been key for many decades in the design of educational materials that address avant-garde and current issues in the field of SRHR, also working with the government for the inclusion of integral sexuality education in the primary school curricula at the national level. 

Most recently the Foundation has engaged in the area of legal interruption of pregnancies, today only legal in Mexico City, but we are working in other 4 states of the country towards its recognition and legalization. Mexfam was also invited to participate in the design of the National Strategy for the Prevention of Adolescent Pregnancy where we ensured placing a special focus in the field of rights.  

    3.       What is the biggest challenge facing women and girls in your region? Why?

Information, access to contraception, eradication of gender-based violence, recognition of reproductive rights, conservative groups, most of all integral sexual education.

    4.       Tell us a story of a moment that drives you to do what you do every day.

The moment one of my family´s domestic employees, an indigenous 13 year old girl who barely spoke Spanish delivered her baby in one of our bedrooms, unknowing that she was pregnant, unable to recall how she got pregnant, speechless for having a baby coming out of her body when all she thought was that she had an upset stomach for months. Marcela had been the victim of abuse and rape by one of her own relatives and all she could recall was thinking that the "heavy man smelled of alcohol when he beat her and was on top of her", but she did not realise that there had been some type of sexual intercourse (at age 12), what that meant, or that she was the victim of violence, to her, it was "normal".

    5.       How are we going to get to a future where SheDecides, without question - in the Mexican (and greater Latin American) context.

By investing hard in advocacy and communication efforts, by making noise via civil society to get to legislators and have them make changes in favor of our issues, by proving that this is an unstoppable global movement, by making the Mexican government understand that we, ourselves, are an important laboratory for the rest of Latin America in many senses, by engaging strong civil society voices and key figures to help us lead the movement among the young and adolescents, by not allowing this relevant political and social capital fade. 

    7.       Anything else you'd like to add?

Thank you for the space to express myself, on behalf of girls and women in Latin America and the Caribbean, thank you.

SheDecides: Creating the New Normal

On July 12, 2017, the SheDecides manifesto was launched to the world. In the wake of the Family Planning Summit in London, Friends and Torchbearers of SheDecides gathered at an Open House event to conspire about how people in positions of influence can stand up, speak out; change the rules; and unlock the resources required to create a new normal where every girl and woman everywhere is free; and has access to education and information about her body, modern contraception and safe abortion. Without question. 

This video is a live reading of The Manifesto at the Open House, performed by London-based poet Ana Paz. Video by Dorothy Allen-Pickard.

a letter from tikhala itaye, chair of SheDecides.

12.06.2018

Dear Friends,

My name is Tikhala Itaye, and I am thrilled to have been appointed to serve the SheDecides movement as Chair, with Lilianne Ploumen MP as Vice-Chair. Together we, alongside the Guiding Group, Champions and Friends of the movement, are committed to create a world that is better, stronger, safer for every girl and woman all over the world.

I am honoured that the politicians and other global leaders who are responsible for the SheDecides movement have appointed me, a 28-year-old young leader from Malawi. Being young, African and a woman in a global leadership role is a unique privilege and a welcome opportunity to challenge the global status quo.

The SheDecides Manifesto paints a picture of a world I want to see. A world where every girl and woman can exercise their reproductive health rights, have access to comprehensive sexual education, be free from violence or harm and be able to decide for herself about her body, her life, and her future. Without question. These are her basic human rights that everyone has to respect and promote.

Around the world, it’s clear to see that we are taking steps in the right direction. Ireland’s decision to repeal the eight amendment to their constitution was a bold, progressive move. However, many countries around the globe are still denying women decisions about their lives. I’m referring not only to the vote in Argentina this week [13 June] where we hope women will be allowed to choose about their bodies, but also to women in Mauritania and Egypt who do not have the same rights as men in marriage, in South Sudan, only one-quarter of which attend primary school; daughters in Lebanon who do not have inheritance rights. The list goes on – and as Chair of SheDecides, I am committed to driving forward positive change so all of these girls and women can be free to decide about their bodies, their lives and futures – everywhere, every day and in every way.

I am proud and excited to work with Lilianne Ploumen MP, the former Minister for Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands, whose brave action at the start of 2017 led to this movement being created. Lilianne has continued to lend her enthusiasm and intellect to putting the voices and rights of girls and women at the forefront of the global agenda.

Friends and champions all over the world, at this very moment I am deeply encouraged by all the work you are doing and I will commit my time to join hands with you. Girls and women everywhere, have embodied the SheDecides movement. They have had the courage to speak out about their most painful traumas, and acknowledge untold stories. Our determination together will create a better future for all these girls and women. I may be a young woman filling up a big role but this little woman is fierce, bold and confident and is ready with your support to champion every girl and woman in our respective society.

By taking the first step of signing SheDecides Manifesto,  then asking others to join, together we will create the world that is better, stronger, safer. But only if. And only when. SheDecides.

Yours in power and solidarity,

Tikhala Itaye

Chair of the SheDecides Movement; Co-Founder of Her Liberty

 

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