the spark

SheDecides launched at the start of 2017 as a global movement to support the fundamental rights of girls and women to decide freely and for themselves about their sexual lives, including whether, when, with whom and how many children they have.

SheDecides was created as an immediate response to US President Donald Trump’s reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule - also known as the Mexico City Policy – a policy which has devastating effects on women, girls and their communities around the world. The rule prevents NGOs outside the US from receiving money from the US government if they provide safe abortions or information about abortion.

This attack on women’s rights resulted in an immediate outcry from many groups, governments and individuals. Initiated by the Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and International Development, Lilianne Ploumen, SheDecides became the rallying call for leaders to stand up as a matter of urgency to protect the rights, health, safety and livelihoods of millions of girls and women around the world.

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The Global Gag Rule was first introduced by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 under the name of the Mexico City Policy. Since then, it has been revoked by Democratic Presidents who have taken office, and re-introduced by all Republican Presidents. In January 2017, a dramatically expanded version was signed by President Donald Trump very soon after he took office. Previously the Global Gag Rule applied to family planning funds only, this version of the Global Gag Rule applies to all global health funds provided by the US government.

It bans non-US organisations from receiving any US funds if they give information and referrals for abortion, provide safe abortion* or plead for better abortion legislation. The Global Gag Rule comes on top of the Helms Amendment, a US law in place since 1973, that already stops any US government funds from being used for abortions. The Global Gag Rule now goes further. 

It stops organisations from using their own or other people’s funds for these purposes.  It applies to US funds provided directly to non-US NGOs or indirectly through US-based NGOs. It does not apply to funds provided by the US government to other governments.

*Officially, abortion care in the case of rape, incest and endangerment of the life of the woman is allowed under the Global Gag Rule. In reality, the rule tends to get overinterpreted and all abortion services are affected.

the impact

The impact of the Global Gag Rule will be  substantial. Organisations must choose between receiving funds from the U.S. government – to date the largest funder of programmes for sexual and reproductive health – and providing the full range of programmes, services and care that women and girls need. Services that are proven, including through independent expert reviews and guidelines provided by WHO to have the greatest impact on health and well-being.

The Global Gag Rule prevents professionals from giving appropriate medical advice to women or referring them to other services. This means that life-saving medical decisions cannot be made by the trained health care providers who are best able to understand the needs of the women and girls they treat.  Rather, they are shaped by policy makers in another country.


Organisations can take a stand against this oppressive rule and refuse to sign. But if they cannot find alternative sources of funding, they will need to cut services, fire staff and close clinics that are often the only source of health care. This hurts the whole community, as well as individual girls and women and their families.

When the Global Gag Rule was in force in previous years, the harm was clear. Research shows that it:

·  Prevented women and girls from accessing contraception and safe abortion that they are legally entitled to in their countries

·  Hampered HIV prevention efforts

·  Contributed to the closing of health clinics

·  Obstructed rural communities’ access to health care

·  Stopped people from speaking out against the laws that prevent women and girls from accessing safe and effective health care

For more background on the Global Gag Rule go to:

PAI.orgKaiser Family Foundation, Guttmacher

the fight back

On 2nd March 2017, the first SheDecides conference was held in Brussels and was co-organised by Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden. More than 50 governments attended the conference, among 450 participants including youth leaders, parliamentarians and representatives from UN agencies, NGOs, private foundations and the private sector. This gathering enabled global leaders to raise their voices in support of girls’ and women’s rights and pledged their commitment to ensure that SheDecides. This outpouring of support included €181 million of new pledges and a new generation of champions.