We have a fundamental moral responsibility to look out for one another and treat people across the globe with dignity and humanity. That starts with sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Sweden, Spain and Belgium’s upcoming presidencies of the Council of the EU come at the right time to make a real difference to people’s lives. These strong advocates of equality can take the EU project forward by pushing for a sound and courageous political agenda that includes gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
SRHR, like democracy and our human rights and freedoms, should never be taken for granted, as exemplified by painful setbacks in several countries such as the US and Poland in past years. 2022 has seen several crises continue or upfold, often putting at risk our values and our rights, including SRHR. According to recent data: no country, in Europe or worldwide has achieved gender equality, whether in economics, politics, education, health, or the fight against gender-based violence. Likewise, SRHR are far from being realized in the EU and in the world. Quite the contrary. In 2022, SRHR have been severely undermined and challenged due to the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the overturn of Roe v. Wade among other factors. A wide range of legal, policy, practical, economic, social, and cultural barriers still undermine access to SRHR.
We are now at a crossroads moment
The upcoming Council of the EU presidencies, Sweden, Spain and Belgium can have a critical impact on upholding gender equality and women and girls’ rights. But there is no time to lose.
We need to put SRHR at the top of the agenda if we are to build a Europe and a world where gender equality and human rights are realised. The respect of SRHR is a sign of how healthy a democracy really is. As we’ve seen in some European countries (like Poland and Hungary) as well as outside of the EU, attacks on women’s rights, including SRHR, are a harbinger of a crumbling democracy and a weakening of the rule of law. How we treat women and girls meets our collective responsibility to continuously create and maintain the conditions for international peace and freedom and informs human interactions more broadly.
SRHR are also prerequisite to break down harmful gender norms and stereotypes, to achieve equal political and civic participation and economic empowerment in Europe and in the world. Access to SRHR gives women and girls and everyone the possibility to make autonomous and informed decisions about their own bodies and sexuality. It is a tool to address unequal power relations and challenge gender norms and stereotypes which hinder gender equality. Policy-makers need to realize that SRHR have the potential to give people more opportunities and choices about their lives and enable them to grow and thrive.
We have to do better
The rise of authoritarianism, coercive and misogynistic movements in Europe and the world have been threatening gender equality, women’s rights, LGBTI+ rights and reproductive freedom, and the broader European values of human rights, liberal democracy, and the rule of law.
At the end of 2022, Hungary took over the Secretariat of the Geneva Consensus, a declaration that claims that there is no international right to abortion and which was signed by more than 30 countries including Poland. In a few months, in 2024, Hungary will take over the Presidency of the Council of the EU. Seeing their track record on gender issues, and their unwillingness to step down from it, we need to act now. That is why, to answer the to the current threat to SRHR and democracy, upcoming Presidencies of the Council of the EU should pursue their commitments towards gender equality and respect for SRHR and go further by:
- Showing a strong political leadership for gender equality and SRHR by adopting an EU-wide feminist foreign policy and mainstreaming gender equality and SRHR in all EU relevant policy-making.
- Ensuring gender equality and SRHR are non-negotiable values in our democracies and condemn any retrogressive initiatives in the EU and partner countries. This is essential to counter the opposition in the Council.
- Working with and supporting civil society organizations which are working closely with local communities is crucial to leave no one behind.
As a society, we believe it’s only right that everyone is treated with dignity and has the freedom to take decision over their bodies and health. If we are to live up to our values, we need to put SRHR at the heart of policy making so that all of us can thrive and grow.
Read our factsheet with our asks for the Swedish Presidency and the upcoming Spanish and Belgian ones.
Words by Diane Tardy, IPPF EN