SheDecides: a global women’s rights movement

SheDecides was launched at the start of 2017 as a movement to support the rights of girls and women to decide freely and for themselves about their sexual lives, including whether, when, with whom and how many children they have. SheDecides began with two words, then a one day conference, and has rapidly evolved into a growing global movement which is guided by the vision in the SheDecides manifesto:

A new normal where girls and women decide about their bodies, their lives, their futures. Without question.

SheDecides was created as an urgent response to US President Donald Trump’s reinstatement and dramatic expansion of the Global Gag Rule – also known as the Mexico City Policy – in January 2017. The rule prevents NGOs outside the US from receiving money from the US government if they provide safe abortions or information about abortion, and has devastating effects on women, girls and their communities around the world. Even before the Global Gag Rule was reinstated and expanded in 2017, many essential services were drastically underfunded in many countries. The situation is now far worse, especially for access to safe abortion and comprehensive sexuality education.

This attack on women’s human rights prompted then Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and International Development, Lilianne Ploumen, along with her counterparts in the governments of Belgium, Denmark and Sweden, to launch SheDecides as a global initiative to defend those rights. On 2 March 2017, these governments organised the first SheDecides pledging conference in Brussels. They were immediately joined by other governments, organisations and individuals. SheDecides became the rallying call for leaders and citizens alike to stand up as a matter of urgency to protect the rights, health, safety and livelihoods of millions of girls and women around the world.

Outraged by one bad policy at the start, Friends of SheDecides soon recognised that there are bad laws and policies in many places – and that they are only one part of a broader series of barriers that must be overcome. Social norms in families, communities and societies at large are often not conducive to securing freedom and autonomy for women and girls. As the movement has grown these challenges have also become a central focus: to change social norms, laws and policies and unlock resources.

So many people were inspired by the simple idea “SheDecides” that a support unit was created to support them to focus their energy and commitment to take action. Today, the SheDecides movement responds to many other challenges that prevent progress for women and girls. In just one year, SheDecides has become a powerful global political movement driving change, fuelled by action in communities and with young people at its heart. It is backed by over 50,000 individuals, 300 organisations and more than 40 global champions – one third of them Ministers – from across the world.

SheDecides movements are emerging at local levels around the world the globe, mobilising young people, organisations and politicians to take action in their regions and countries.

SheDecides The Netherlands: a local movement led by Rutgers

Rutgers is a Dutch NGO operating in 18 countries worldwide and is proud to be one of the SheDecides Champions. Since day one, we’ve been very active within the movement. One of our first actions was to launch the public donations platform www.shedecides.nl at the beginning of 2017 with the support of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Exactly one year after SheDecides was founded, we awarded the public donations to health workers in Kenya. In 2017, private individuals donated 500,000 euro to SheDecides. The Reproductive Health Network Kenya works towards reducing maternal mortality and morbidity caused by unsafe abortion. Thanks to the contribution, the organization can help 33,000 girls and women annually.

Rutgers has chosen the Reproductive Health Network Kenya after consultation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and partners in the field. Through our international work we know the situation in Kenya well. Our director Ton Coenen, who’s also one of the SheDecides Champions, stated: “During our talks, it was soon obvious that care for women and girls in Kenya would be greatly threatened if we didn’t act. We chose the Reproductive Health Network because this organization focusses on abortion care and contraception. With the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy the organization stood to lose no less than 70% of its half-yearly income. Our support is therefore badly needed.”

We will continue to ask the Dutch audience to shift their solidarity to women in countries where contraception and safe abortion are not so readily available. Through e.g. campaigns and events the audience is invited to reflect on their freedom of choice and join the SheDecides movement.

A recent development: Trump’s expansion of the Gag Rule.

US abortion rights under attack. On 19 August 2019, Planned Parenthood Federation of America announced that the Trump- administration, through the gag rule, has forced Planned Parenthood grantees out of Title X, the nation’s decades-old bipartisan program for affordable birth control and reproductive health care. Planned Parenthood health centers have been a part of the program since it was created nearly 50 years ago, and have been the largest provider, serving approximately 40 percent of the 4 million patients who get care through Title X health centers — that’s more than 1.5 million patients.

The medical community, public health experts, and the general public are against the domestic gag rule. In addition to the American Medical Association, the gag rule has been opposed by major medical associations, like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Physicians, as well as 110 public health organizations, public health experts and many others. A group of 19 different medical organizations, mayors, state lawmakers, over 200 Members of Congress, newly elected Democratic governors, and several other governors have opposed this legislation as well.

Alexis McGill Johnson, Acting President and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America stated: “The Trump administration’s gag rule will reverberate across the country. This reality will hit hardest people struggling to make ends meet — including those people in rural areas and communities of color. We believe that the Trump administration is doing this as an attack on reproductive health care and to keep providers like Planned Parenthood from serving our patients. Health care shouldn’t come down to how much you earn, where you live, or who you are. Congress must act now. It’s time for the U.S. Senate to act to pass a spending bill that will reverse the harmful rule and restore access to birth control, STD testing, and other critical services to people with low-incomes. People’s lives depend on it.”

SheDecides: stand up speak out, change the rules and unlock resources

Your participation in the SheDecides movement is much needed; now more than ever. Help us to protect the rights of girls and women. Sign the manifesto at shedecides.com and/or donate through shedecides.nl.

If you would like more information on SheDecides, please contact:

Lotte Rensen Project lead SheDecides The Netherlands
l.rensen@rutgers.nl | shedecides.nl | 0031-611 40 74 84