She Decides: the start of a global movement?
The Ministerial Conference was hosted by Alexander De Croo, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Development Cooperation of Belgium, and co-organized with the Netherlands, who started the initiative, Sweden and Denmark. Originally portrayed as an ‘abortion fund’, it was made clear quickly that the She Decides initiative is much wider and covers all SRHR, and that the initiative and conference had both advocacy and fundraising objectives.
Ahead of the conference, 235 civil society organisations had already signed a statement applauding the She Decides initiative, and calling on likeminded governments and other stakeholders to step up financing and to champion these issues at all levels. EuroNGOs and IPPF EN decided to bring civil society attending the She Decides conference together the day before the actual event, to exchange information, clarify doubts, and jointly brainstorm on civil society engagement with the conference and the wider initiative. The civil society pre-meeting brought forward that beyond funding, we need to bring political supporters aboard, focus on creating a wider movement, capacity-building and national mobilization. It was clear for participants that through She Decides we can help build political support globally, for both SRHR and human rights.
Although organized in less than a month, the She Decides conference gathered more than 45 government representatives of all continents and 400 parliamentarians, foundations and civil society participants in Brussels. Apart from the funding pledges, including from bilateral donors and foundations such as the Children's Investment Fund Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the conference was also used as a platform for political statements and expressions of support by a wide range of actors. The European Commission took the floor to express their continued support to sexual and reproductive health and rights, comprehensive family planning, education, information and preventive health programmes. The Chair of EuroNGOs Ton Coenen also had the opportunity to address the Conference attendees. In the statement, he reflected on the discussions of the civils society pre-meet, welcoming the pledges made but also pointed out the shrinking ODA and called for domestic resource mobilisation. “We have to keep in mind that more advocacy – and resources for it – will be the only way to keep our hard-earned gains and continue to build on them” he added. Based on inputs from civil society, he also emphasized that SRHR firmly includes access to safe abortions and that we mustn’t shy away from it.
In the closing remarks of Alexander De Croo and Lilianne Ploumen, they both stressed that this is only the start and they will continue to drive this agenda forward. Ploumen also said that She Decides should be seen as an open resource and a ‘brand’ that can be used and taken up by others. Meanwhile, the hope is that additional countries will step up and pledge funds. The week after the conference, on International Women’s day, Canada promised another $ 650 million to be invested over 3 years towards women’s empowerment, including SRHR.
It will now also be on us to hold them to account on these commitments.
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