Speech by Lilianne Ploumen at the She Decides conference, in Brussels on 2 March 2017

Speech by Lilianne Ploumen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, at the She Decides conference, in Brussels on 2 March 2017

Ladies and gentlemen,

Friends.

What an inspiring gathering! It hasn’t even been six weeks since President Trump reinstated the Mexico City policy. A policy that affects women and girls all over the world by cutting US funding of organisations for one simple reason: their willingness to provide scope for safe abortion.

Just six weeks, and here you all are! You’ve come from all over the world, showing that you care and showing that you want to help.

You probably felt just like I did when you heard about the decision. I’m sure you were as upset as I was.

Because we know what the Mexico City policy means. Especially after seeing this morning’s testimonials. It means an end to many programmes, from sex education for the young to access to family planning and medicine, maternal healthcare during and after pregnancy, prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, and the list goes on. It all comes down to this: fewer women and girls will be in charge of their own bodies.

To make matters worse, the number of abortions will not drop. It will rise, just as it did the last time this policy was introduced. Let’s face it: people have sex. And if people can’t get information on how to protect themselves, women and girls will have to cope with pregnancies they didn’t plan for. They might seek an abortion. Not because they want to, but because they have no other option – because they didn’t have access to sex education and birth control earlier. And without access to safe abortions, women and girls will be driven to undergo unsafe abortions.

All these thoughts ran through my mind when I heard the news. And then I realised something else: I can do something about this. I realised we needed a plan to undo the damage.

One day later, we launched She Decides. And we announced that we would be contributing ten million euros.

It was the start of a roller coaster ride. Support started pouring in – people all over the world were showing that they care. They care for all those women and girls who are going to be affected by the Mexico City policy. They care, and they will not stand for it.

She Decides made the news in 123 countries. And the stories generated heart-warming responses. An elderly woman dropped in at our embassy in Washington to leave an envelope with a note for me inside, along with a five-dollar bill to contribute to the cause.

Members of the public mobilised to organise events, sell artwork and raise money. They tweeted and signed petitions to convince their governments to support She Decides. I’ve already received well over a hundred postcards from the United States, and they keep on coming – American citizens, from Alaska to Virginia, have written me to express their support for She Decides. European NGOs working in sexual health and family planning launched a petition to support the She Decides initiative and encourage other allies to support it too. Over 230 organisations from 65 different countries have signed the petition so far. Private actors have contacted us to offer their support and networks, and to discuss ways of improving reproductive health in the workplace. We’ve received numerous offers from companies offering their professional advice and support for free.

My staff have been pulling all-nighters ever since, fuelled by pizza and Thai food, gathering support and eliciting contributions from other governments. They’ve been amazing, and I thank them for all their hard work. I also want to thank the governments of Finland, Canada, Cape Verde, Estonia and Luxembourg, who were among the first to step up. And I specifically want to thank Alexander de Croo, the Belgian development minister, who first offered to host this conference and then managed to organise it at break-neck speed. Thank you, Alexander, you’ve worked wonders – together with our colleagues from Denmark and Sweden, Ulla Tørnæs and Isabella Lövin. And I want to thank all of you, from the bottom of my heart, for being here today.

So what’s next?    

We’ve started a global movement. Not a new bureaucracy or organisation. This movement, She Decides, mobilises public support, political support and funding for sexual health and family planning. It gives voice and opportunities to all those who want to stand up for the right to decide for oneself. 

Some 225 million women would be using safe and effective family planning methods today, if only they were available to them. Most of these women live in the world’s 69 poorest countries. Family planning would significantly reduce poverty and boost economic growth in the countries that need it most. People – especially women and girls – all over the world should feel empowered and supported in their right to decide. That is the ultimate goal of She Decides.

In the short term, the movement’s objectives are as follows.

Leverage political support. We’re looking for worldwide political support for our ambitions and goals from governments, international organisations, NGOs, foundations and the private sector.

Leverage financial support. We want to raise financial support from governments (in both donor countries and the countries concerned), foundations, private actors and the public to compensate for the Mexico City policy and the loss of US funding for sexual and reproductive health, family planning and safe abortion.

Enhance knowledge and understanding. We want more people and organisations beyond the SRHR community to know, understand and agree on the need for access to family planning, access to safe abortions and improvement of sexual health. All of this is key to ensuring equal opportunities for women.

Support the right to decide. We want to do everything possible to ensure women and men worldwide feel empowered and supported in their right to decide whether, when and with whom they have children.

She Decides provides opportunities. Everybody can join! And everyone can contribute under the movement’s banner in his or her own way. Individuals, companies, foundations, NGOs and governments are all rallying around the issue of the right of women and girls to self-determination.

Anyone can fly the banner of She Decides. This movement has the potential to mobilise and unite all those who are ready to stand up for women and girls who want to take control of their sexual health and rights.

She Decides stands for a wide range of sexual and reproductive health and family planning services  including those needed to avert unsafe abortions. In fact, She Decides stands for the SRHR and gender-equality agenda we’ve been promoting for many years. Now, more than ever, it’s time to join forces and strengthen each other’s initiatives on sexual health and family planning. A case in point is the major conference the British government will be hosting in July. I encourage all of you to give that worthy initiative your full support.

It’s now up to us to sustain the She Decides movement and actually make a difference in the lives of women and girls. She Decides is a virtual coalition of supporters. It is a group of friends, instituted for at least four years, up to 2020.

You can all become part of this group of friends, whether you represent a government, association, international organisation, NGO, research institute or private organisation. In my view, supporters should contribute to the movement according to their own strengths, and the opportunities and possibilities open to them. Each member will publicly support She Decides and its mission. Contributions and support within the scope of She Decides are labelled as such and are channelled through existing mechanisms, funds, organisations and frameworks. Supporters help improve access to sexual and reproductive health and family planning, and safe abortions. And they help reduce maternal mortality.

In short, She Decides is about the commitment to be a true friend. A true friend to every women and girl in the world who is struggling for her right to decide whether, when and with whom to have children. I see true friends all around me here today, and it’s a beautiful sight.

Thank you, friends.

Ministry responsible