ARROW and its partners from the Asia-Pacific region welcome the initiative by the governments of Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Belgium in support of the Global Fundraising Initiative SHE DECIDES. The initiative aims to enable women and girls all over the world to exercise their reproductive rights, including the right to access safe abortion services.
This is indeed a timely initiative following the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy, also referred to as the Global Gag Rule, by President Trump. As a result many organisations will not be able to provide lifesaving access to contraception services and information, maternal and neonatal health care, and HIV prevention and treatment. SHE DECIDES aims to increase financial and political support for sexual health, reproductive rights, and contraception across the globe and mitigate the impact of Global Gag Rule’s reinstatement.
During the last few months we have seen disturbing waves of populists, nationalist conservatism sweep across countries. This endangers women and girls and also our rights; further threatening human rights and development across the globe. Initiatives such as SHE DECIDES therefore have a critical role to play in alleviating its consequences and ensuring human rights of the most marginalised women and girls.
Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) is integral to achieving human rights of women and girls. They have to be taken in totality and not selectively. SRHR is an integral part of women and girls’ rights to be free from discrimination, coercion and violence, and enshrines the principles of bodily integrity, dignity, equality, and respect for diversity.
The Asia-Pacific region is home to 4.5 billion people living in the region, and women and girls comprise half of this. In our region, 287,000 women die yearly from childbirth and pregnancy-related causes. Unsafe abortion is estimated to have caused 13% of all maternal deaths in South East Asia and in South Asia respectively. About 2.3 million women in the region are hospitalised annually for treatment of complications from unsafe abortion.
About 63% of the adolescent pregnancies in the region are unintended and with some Pacific countries having the highest in the world and with almost 1 in 10 girls becoming pregnant by the age of 16 in South and Southeast Asia. Adolescent pregnancies, although under-reported, continue to be a challenge in the Oceania, South Asia and South East Asia regions and contribute significantly to the burden of maternal mortality and unsafe abortions. In contexts, where abortion is legally accessible, it remains highly stigmatised and prevents women, especially young girls, to seek safe services and post-abortion care. Consequently, young girls are at a higher risk of abortion-related morbidity and mortality in many contexts.
The Asia Pacific region continues to have a poor record on gender equality, and without fully unleashing the power and potential of women and girls. Women and girls continue to share the reality of discrimination, prejudice, violence, and oppression. Gender gaps are wide in some of the countries in the region, with gaps in South Asia larger than any other region in the world. Lack of policies, legislations and strategies framing action on gender equality continues to impede women and girls’ access to sexual and reproductive health services and their ability to exercise sexual and reproductive rights.
In the region, women and girls’ access to information and services is often restricted by narrow policies, practices, mind-sets, beliefs, and traditions that are rooted in structural inequalities and patriarchal notions that favour the control of men and boys over women and girls. These approaches perpetuate gender norms and notions of women’s bodies not being their own but the property of the state. These patriarchal notions are justified as socio-cultural and religious norms that use conservative and narrow interpretations to control their access to SRHR citing family “honour”, women’s reproductive role, and strengthening the following. Culture and religion are both dynamic, and there are progressive interpretations of religion, which do affirm, protect and fulfil the rights women and girls. Unfortunately in many societies, extreme interpretations of religion are utilised to place controls on women’s and girls’ rights, especially their SRHR.
The rise in right-wing populism and conservatism stoked by religio-nationalism is evident in the Asia-Pacific region as well with certain governments taking regressive stances on women’s health and women’s rights. We have five key asks.
we anticipate in the coming months the US government will dismantle commitments to gender equality and SRHR on all fronts, and that the access to safe abortion was only the first issue they started with. At stake are young people’s sexual and reproductive rights and access to SRH services, comprehensive sexuality education, access to modern contraceptives, LGBTIQ rights, and increase in adolescent pregnancies as well as early and forced marriages. We hope that with time and resources all of these critical SRHR issues will be covered by this initiative.
we anticipate that the rights discourse will also be severely undermined, and conservative governments in our part of the world will ride on this opportunity to further reduce their commitments to upholding human rights especially women’s rights and in particular sexual and reproductive rights. We hope that SHE DECIDES will also be able to support advocacy on human rights at national, regional and global levels on SRHR as the human rights framework is the conceptual framework which holds up the work we do.
while SRH service provision is a critical issue, it is equally important to support outreach, mobilization, and the capacity building of women and young people, so that as citizens they are able to move their communities, societies and governments to respect, promote and fulfill SRHR.
we hope that this fundraising initiative will also distribute resources equitably between INGOs and women led NGOs from the South, and enable that funding to reach the frontline NGOs who are able to defend these rights the best.
and not least, we hope that funding considerations and decisions are made with the awareness that the Asia-Pacific region has needs and demands which are urgent and high, as thus should be prioritized.
The Above Statement is Endorsed by: