News item

Open Letter from SheDecides Champions

As we emerge from the shock of a global pandemic, we won't stand by while women's rights are eroded. As SheDecides Champions, we ask that women and girls across the world get full access to their sexual and reproductive rights and freedoms.

No woman should be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term; and no woman should die due to pregnancy or childbirth. The foundation of a fair and equal world for women and girls in all their diversity is the right to decide about their own bodies. Every woman everywhere has the right to safe, legal abortion, maternal and obstetric healthcare, comprehensive sexuality education and contraception.

But right now, across the world, women and girls are routinely denied full access to their sexual and reproductive rights and freedoms. The disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic particularly on women’s economic empowerment and increased sexual and gender-based violence makes the need to secure gender equality more pressing than ever.

Lockdowns and pressures on health services have made it more challenging for women and girls to access essential healthcare services such as contraception, resulting in increased pregnancies and reduced access to abortion – even in countries where the procedure is safe and legal. A shadow pandemic of increased domestic abuse has also severely compromised women’s and girls’ access to their full human rights, including their integrity and bodily autonomy.

Attacks on the right to safe and legal reproductive services are often spearheaded by well-funded, well- organised lobby groups who finance anti-abortion drives around the world. Their most visible vanguard are the protesters who stand outside clinics, intimidating and harassing women and girls seeking essential healthcare services. But they operate behind the scenes too, working with anti-abortion groups and politicians to spread disinformation and force a chilling effect on women’s rights.

Our fear, as we emerge from the shock of a global pandemic, is that the situation facing women and girls risks getting worse unless we act now.

As SheDecides Champions, we are determined to stand strong and firm against these attacks. It is only through ensuring every woman and girl has full access to her reproductive rights that we can achieve gender equality. By dismantling the barriers to accessing abortion and other sexual and reproductive health services and by putting women’s rights at the centre of the COVID-19 recovery, we can realise a world where she decides.

These barriers can manifest as stigma and discrimination, or they can manifest in more concrete ways. Today, there are places in the world where abortion remains completely criminalised. Restrictive abortion laws kill women and they also fail to prevent women seeking abortions. By campaigning for the lifting of legal barriers, and protecting abortion as an essential healthcare service we can prevent unsafe abortions, save women’s lives and move a step closer to achieving gender equality.

On every continent abortion clinics were closed during the pandemic as they were deemed non- essential care services. They must be reopened. We also need to see an end to policies such as mandatory counselling, and surgical-level hygiene standards in clinics that are merely prescribing pills for safe abortion. We want to see the upcoming revised WHO guidelines on safe abortion implemented. We want to see safe abortion included in Universal Health Coverage efforts and national plans, providers trained, and with access to supplies and commodities, including the registration of mifepristone where it is not yet available.

But the truth is, we must go much, much further.

We need to protect women and girls’ right to decide about their own bodies, no matter what their age.

We need a global campaign of factual and unbiased information so women and girls know their rights and have access to accurate information about their healthcare options. And women need to have economic independence so they can make decisions over their own bodies – including being supported to have the children they want, with whom they want, and to have them safely.

When we empower women and girls, we empower their families and their future children. We empower communities. We empower nations. Ultimately, we eradicate poverty.

We won’t stand by while women’s rights are eroded and we won’t settle for the status quo either. We will spare no effort to make sure SheDecides. Will you join us?

SheDecides Champion signatories:

Mr Abid Q Raja, Minister of Culture and Equality, Government of Norway

Mr Alexander de Croo, Prime Minister, Government of Belgium

Dr Alvaro Bermejo, Director General, IPPF

Ms Aminatou Sar, Country Director, PATH Senegal

Ms Christine Stegling, Executive Director, Frontline AIDS

Ms Elisabeth Moreno, Minister of State for Gender Equality, Government of France

Ms Georgia Arnold, Executive Director, MTV Staying Alive Viacom

Ms Goedele Liekens, Member of Parliament, Belgium

Ms Jona Turalde, SheDecides Guiding Group Member, Philippines

Ms Jovana Rios, Chairwoman of the Board, IPPF WHR, Panama

Ms Karina Gould, SheDecides Guiding Group Member & Minister of International Development and Gender Equality, Government of Canada

Ms Kate Hampton, CEO, CIFF

Ms Latanya Mapp-Frett, President and CEO, Global Fund for Women

Ms Lilianne Ploumen, Chair of the SheDecides Guiding Group, The Netherlands

Ms Lina Abirafeh, SheDecides Guiding Group Member & Executive Director, Arab Institute for Women

Ms Lisa Russell, Founder, Create2030

Ms Malayah Harper, Director of the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, Engender Health

Ms Mariela Belski, SheDecides Guiding Group Member & Executive Director, Amnesty International Argentina

Prof Mary Ann Lumsden, CEO, FIGO

Mr Per Olsson Fridh, Minister for International Development, Government of Sweden

Dr Ruth Labode, Member of Parliament, Parliament of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe

Ms Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and International Development, Government of the Netherlands

Mr Simon Cooke, CEO, Marie Stopes International

Ms Sivananthi Thanenthiran, Executive Director, Arrow, Malaysia

Ms Sonali Silva, SheDecides Guiding Group Member, Sri Lanka

Ms Sylvia Hamata, SheDecides Guiding Group Member & International Confederation of Midwives (ICM), Namibia

Ms Tikhala Itaye, SheDecides Guiding Group Member and Co-Founder, HeR Liberty, Malawi

Mr Ton Coenen, Executive Director, Rutgers

Ms Vera Syrakvash, Belarus/Russia