The budget that the government allocated last year for She Decides – to preserve family planning services – has benefited women in a number of countries, including Ethiopia, Yemen, Mali, Bangladesh and Mozambique. She Decides has also supported several programmes covering multiple countries, such as the West African region as a whole. The Netherlands is spending a total of €29 million on She Decides in 2017 and 2018.
In the words of development minister Sigrid Kaag, ‘She Decides has truly unleashed something in the field of women’s rights. It empowers women and girls to decide not only over their own bodies, but also over their own futures. The ability to choose whether to have children, and when and how many, also improves their chance of economic independence. It makes it easier for them to finish school and invest in a career. That’s good for them, of course, but it’s also good for the global society of which they’re a part.’
Ms Kaag’s predecessor as development minister, Lilianne Ploumen, launched She Decides exactly a year ago, in response to a presidential memorandum issued by US President Donald Trump. Mr Trump’s decision effectively ended many family planning programmes for women in developing countries if aid organisations mentioned or offered safe abortion.
Enhancing women’s rights
The current Dutch government is just as committed to She Decides as the previous one. It is also committed to a comprehensive package for the enhancement of women’s rights in the areas of education, work and politics as well as sexuality. ‘These connections are crucial for women’s opportunities worldwide,’ says Ms Kaag. ‘This is why this government is investing in giving women more say, particularly in conflict situations.
‘I’ll be making this point myself in the UN Security Council on International Women’s Day, when protecting women from sexual and other violence is a major concern. Achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls – Sustainable Development Goal 5 – will be a high priority in my policy document on foreign trade and development cooperation.’
She Decides: now an international movement
In the course of 2017, She Decides grew into a substantial, broad international movement including 60 countries, dozens of NGOs and private organisations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. A total of €390 million has now been raised so that She Decides can support organisations that do not accept the US government’s new conditions for funding. This is keeping contraception, sex education, pregnancy care and safe abortion accessible for millions of women in many countries. ‘Of course it’s still an enormous challenge to make up for the American funds that have been cut,’ says the minister. ‘But we’re heartened by what we achieved last year. This proves that we can get results for all those millions of women in developing countries who we refuse to abandon.’
Where the Dutch contribution goes
In the great majority of cases, Dutch contributions have gone to organisations that were directly affected by President Trump’s memorandum. These include the Yamaan Foundation and Marie Stopes International Yemen, which are receiving a total of €4 million. They are using this money to provide contraception, sex education and maternity care to 650,000 Yemeni women and girls.
Another example is the West African Health Organisation (WAHO), which is active in 15 West African countries where the availability of contraception is limited. Dutch support is enabling WAHO to help an estimated 376,000 women each year. Dutch support is also providing the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) with an additional €2 million, in additional to the Netherlands’ structural donation for the period 2015-2018. The additional €2 million will fund the procurement and distribution of contraceptives in 46 countries. The total Dutch contribution to She Decides of €29 million is helping more than a million women.