Knapen champions reproductive rights

‘For years the Netherlands has been committed to promoting people’s right to decide for themselves whether, when and with whom to have children, and to determine the size of their own families. And we’ve been successful, both in the Netherlands and in developing countries.

The Netherlands will continue to defend these reproductive rights.’ This pledge was made by Minister for European Affairs and International Cooperation Ben Knapen in London on Wednesday at a summit on family planning organised by the British government and by Melinda Gates.

That reproductive rights still need of further support became apparent at the UN sustainability summit in Rio de Janeiro last month. A passage on these rights, which had previously been agreed at UN level, was blocked for inclusion in the summit’s final text, even though the need for them is great. Although more woman are able to use contraception, there are still 222 million around the world who cannot. Every year almost 290,000 women die from complications from pregnancy or childbirth, while 47,000 women die as a result of high-risk, often illegal abortions.

Even now, 2.7 million people contract HIV annually. In many developing countries pregnancy is the leading cause of death for girls between 15 and 19.

The Netherlands is internationally known for its successful and pragmatic approach to sex  and taboos. ‘We’re not afraid to get involved in tough discussions on the availability of contraception, sex education for young people and access to safe abortion as a last resort,’ said the minister in London, where the emphasis was on women’s access to contraception.

Taken together, sexual and reproductive health and rights and the fight against AIDS are one of the four key themes of Dutch development policy. The government’s focus is not only on contraception but also on sex education for young people. To this end, it sponsors events like Dance4Life.

The Dutch government is working with NGOs and human rights defenders to improve the position and rights of sex workers and gay people as well as the care given to those groups.

In addition, the Netherlands works with NGOs, businesses, knowledge institutes, private donors, international organisations like the UN, and other governments on matters like developing new medicines or guidelines for treating postnatal haemorrhaging.

Mr Knapen was invited to London because of the Netherlands’ expertise on sexual and reproductive care and rights. He talked about these issues with Melinda Gates and the head of USAID.