Speech Ploumen on She Decides at Guardian side event

Speech minister PLoumen on She Decides at Guardian side event

‘It is better to light a single candle than curse the darkness.’

Ladies and gentlemen,

This saying is my leitmotiv today. This speech will move towards the light, I promise you.

In 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted. Its first article reads:

‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’

So how are the women of the world doing today, in 2017 in achieving freedom and equality?

These are the facts:

One in three women still experiences physical or sexual violence during her lifetime. On average, women are paid 25 to 40 per cent less than men. Less than a quarter of members of national parliaments are women.

The Global Gender Gap Index measures the work that remains to be done to achieve gender parity worldwide, across the areas of health, education, economy and politics. It currently stands at 31.7 per cent. At the present rate of change, it will take another 170 years to close the gap.

Almost seventy years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, women’s rights are still routinely trampled upon. And by the way, this is an economic disaster. According to estimates, gender parity in employment and wages would raise global GDP by 12 trillion dollars in a single decade.

Women have a fundamental human right to unlock their full potential. Women’s rights are human rights. And the clock is ticking. We don’t want to allow another 170 years to close the gap. If the world community wants a fighting chance of realising the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, it has to empower women.

The world community is well aware of this. Yet progress is slow, and in some ways we’re even backsliding. This shows how deeply imbedded inequality between men and women still is. We need every man and every woman who understands this to help turn things around.

Achieving gender equality demands that women and men question the status quo and gender stereotypes. Fortunately, many do, and it comes in all shapes and forms and in all spheres of life. From the Uruguayan female pilot keeping the peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to Kenyan women’s rights activist Nice Nalantei, to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Achieving gender equality also demands political leaders that stand up for women’s rights. They also  need to challenge gender stereotypes.  They must muster the political will to change the culture that hampers women’s participation and leadership. Until now, too few prime ministers have formed a cabinet with 50% women.

The Netherlands itself is not beyond reproach. With respect to women parliamentarians, for instance, we rank twentieth on the Global Gender Gap Index, way behind Rwanda and Nicaragua. Good for them; shame on us. Although you should know, that my party, the Labour Party has a 50/50 representation in parliament. Also in the Netherlands, there is still wage gap and the glass ceiling is not fully shattered yet. The good news is that there’s common ground that this needs to change.

That said, the Netherlands has for decades been a staunch supporter of the rights of women and girls worldwide – even when conservatism and religious fundamentalism is on the rise.

Nearly 70 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 38 years after the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, 23 years after the Cairo Declaration on Population and Development, and 22 years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, the fight for women’s rights continues, needs to continue.

Sexual and reproductive rights are the main battleground. From an ideological, religious and cultural perspective these rights are under continuous fire.

Ladies and gentlemen, friends,

On the 23rd of January, President Trump signed his memorandum reinstating the Mexico City policy. That policy, better known as the global gag rule, effectively robs women of the fundamental right to decide for themselves about their own bodies. It was a huge step in the wrong direction.

I was appalled. Over the past several decades, family planning has yielded spectacular results, providing hundreds of millions of women with contraceptives and averting millions of unintended pregnancies and abortions. Offering the possibility of safe abortions has dramatically reduced maternal mortality.

I have  witnessed firsthand the difference that modern family planning policies have made. Often, quite literally, it is the difference between life and death. When the US government announced to cut funding for organisations for so much as mentioning safe abortion as an option, aligning itself with forces that want to rob women from their fundamental rights, I immediately decided to act.

And then something amazing happened. It was as if people had been waiting for a challenge to the rising conservative tide. From all over the world, endorsements poured in. Besides the magnitude of the support, what struck me was the tone. It was as if the proverbial single candle had been lit. There was an outpouring of relief and hope.

The iconic picture of the president signing his memorandum, surrounded by his aides, was evocative, as you will. All of them were men. They said they were protecting life. But the message they sent was that if their ban on even mentioning abortion would hurt other policies – access to contraception, maternity care, the fight against HIV – so be it. And if their ideology and opportunism would in fact not reduce the number of abortions, but rather drive more girls into the dirty hands of quacks and back street abortionists as research shows – so be it.

The initiative that I took was named She Decides.

She Decides struck a nerve in a very wide audience. My political friends and fellow activists stood by me, but support went far, far beyond them.

Young and old, men and women, politicians from left to right, media personalities, support for She Decides came from all sides. People stopped me in the street and told me that they felt represented again by a politician – as if it had been a long time since they had had that feeling.

And to my surprise, on a Sunday evening, sitting on my couch, wearing sweat pants, watching my favorite satirical tv show, which had often been critical of my policies, suddenly a character appeared called ‘Super Ploumen’. Imagine Superman with my face and you get the picture.

Support for She Decides came from all over the globe. From Chad to Peru, from Afghanistan to Cabo Verde, and from Nepal and Vietnam to Mongolia, Senegal and Benin. Ministers from Chad and Ethiopia told me, ‘These are our values.’ Dutch diplomats received standing ovations in meetings with counterparts. Diplomats from Belgium, which organised a She Decides conference within six weeks, met with similar enthusiasm.

It was indeed less than six weeks after President Trump signed his memorandum that more than fifty countries attended the She Decides conference on the 2nd of March 2017. Today about sixty countries have expressed support for She Decides, either financially or politically. All of them fully recognise the importance of a woman’s right to make their own informed choices.  

Pledges so far total around 300 million dollars, and counting. The Netherlands has just decided to allocate another four million euros to the United Nations Population Fund in Mozambique to mitigate the impact of the global gag rule. That brings the Netherlands’ total contribution to 29 million euros.

Belgium, Luxemburg, Finland, Slovenia, Canada, Norway, Cyprus, Australia, Sweden, France, Denmark, they all are contributing.

And governments are by no means the only donors. Almost half the amount of money pledged at the She Decides conference came from private foundations. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donated millions as did the Children’s Investment Fund. One donor who gave no less than 50 million dollars preferred to remain anonymous. Dutch family foundations pledged their support too.

As for civil society organisations, more than 235 NGOs in 65 countries have signed a petition in support of She Decides.

Most important, citizens around the world jumped into action. They donated, signed petitions and showed their support in every way they could think of. An older lady showed up at our embassy in Washington DC to hand over an envelope with an encouraging message and a 5 dollar note. Thousands of American citizens sent postcards to my office. Global citizen, a movement of 7 million young people, supported She Decides.

Recently we presented the She Decides Manifesto – check it at Shedecides.com – over 30.000 people signed it. The title of the Manifesto is: When she decides, the world is better, stronger, safer.

Women’s health and rights are now high on everyone’s agenda. Awareness has been raised on women’s sexual rights. New coalitions have been formed to defend, protect and promote the right of every woman to decide for herself if she wants to have children, with whom and how many.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The significance of all this cannot be overstated. It is my belief that She Decides is showing a new way forward. The broad support for She Decides makes clear that the clock cannot be turned back. She Decides brings a message of hope. She Decides has impact. She Decides unites.

She Decides is a movement and an inclusive movement at that. Anybody can join. Everyone who supports the She Decides goals can help build the movement to counter the negative dynamics that hold us back.

Financial support, political support and moral support will all help our common cause.

My term as a minister will soon come to an end. I am proud to be elected as  Member of Parliament. I will continue the fight for womens rights, encouraged by the broad support for She Decides. A support that is both financial and moral.

She Decides lights a candle rather than cursing the darkness.

Thank you!