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and reproductive health and rights

Sexual and reproductive health and rights may sound like somewhat dry and abstract concepts. But they are definitely not. Neither for the many women and young girls who have their lives and prospects for the future destroyed or impaired each year because they do not have access to trained assistance during childbirth or to condoms or other forms of contraception; because they have not had any sex education or any kind of education; or because they have been subject to female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).

In November 2012 Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary helped to direct focus on sexual and reproductive health and rights when she and Minister for Development Cooperation Christian Friis Bach visited Mozambique.
Photo: Torkild Adsersen, Scanpix

Nor is sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRSR) a topic that goes down smoothly at international development policy meetings. It is high profile, value-based politics. One part, roughly speaking, are fierce opponents of abortion, who only accepts ‘traditional’ family patterns (a father, a mother and preferably a lot of children) and who are only interested in the reproductive side of the issue, and not so interested in addressing the sexual perspectives. This part often holds a negative view of women and gender-issues: women have a lower status, fewer rights and opportunities – even if it means that girls can end up as child brides in unwanted marriages, are forced to leave school, and become pregnant far too early in life. Homosexuality is, unfortunately, still considered to be an illness or a crime in many countries.

Denmark fights against these views – together with a number of traditionally like-minded and progressive countries from all continents. Denmark places great emphasis on the rights, health, the reproductive and the sexual. For Denmark, the issue is fundamentally about the right for people to make decisions about their own bodies: whether they want to have children, with whom, how many and when. It must be without force or any kind of discrimination. For us, it is about information, especially sex education for young people, and about access to trained assistance during childbirth and other health services, including abortion. It is about access to condoms, birth control pills and other types of contraception, HIV/AIDS prevention, AIDS treatment and the treatment of other sexually transmitted diseases. And, to a great extent, it is about having influence over one’s own life and opportunities for the future.

Ensuring everyone a healthy and satisfying life, both in the sexual and the reproductive spheres, is to a significant extent achieved through a well-functioning, integrated health care sector that reaches out to all segments of the population. This is far from the case in many of our partner countries. Denmark supports, therefore, the development of the healthcare sector in a number of countries and at the same time supports a number of civil society organisations that contribute to delivering the relevant health services at the national and local levels. Many of them are also involved in advocacy work. Some of the key partners are the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA), the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Marie Stopes International and the organisation Women Deliver.

The SRSR initiatives are based on a 20-year action programme (International Conference on Population and Development, ICPD), which was adopted at a UN summit meeting in Cairo in 1994. At this meeting, the direction was changed from an approach where population control dominated to a rights-based approach. Unfortunately, globally we are a long way from having achieved the objectives that were formulated in Cairo. This can be seen, for example, in the international development goal for reducing maternal mortality (Millennium Development Goal 5), which is the MDG that is lagging furthest behind. Therefore, it is also a high priority for Denmark, partly to ensure an effective and more ambitious continuation of the ICPD action programme and partly to ensure that SRSR is satisfactorily reflected in the development goals that are to replace the MDGs in two years.

In November 2012, Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary helped to put focus on the area of SRSR with her visit to Mozambique together with the Minister for Development Cooperation. HRH Crown Princess Mary also contributes with her engagement in, among other things, the ICPD high level group to direct focus on this important agenda. There is a need for all helping hands and a massive effort on many fronts in order to ensure that we won’t hear about another sad mass rapes such as those occurring in India, about girls like Malala in Pakistan who are not allowed to go to school, or about women who are refused abortions even though their own lives are in danger and the foetus cannot be saved.