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The new normal: SheDecides about her body and her life

PRETORIA, South Africa, 1 March 2018 – The flagship event for the global SheDecides movement – an alliance of partners for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) that formed in reaction to the US’s decision in 2017 to defund UNFPA – was held in the East and Southern Africa region yesterday.

The high level event brought together United Nations partners including UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund and UN Women, as well as the South African and the Danish governments, and youth champions for SRHR.

South African Minister of Health, Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, said the movement would help the region achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – but not without gender equality. Sexual health and gender equality must be tethered together if progress is to be made towards improving sexual and reproductive health rights on the African continent.

He urged participants to move past resolutions, meetings and pledges, and to action: “Stand up. Speak out. Change the rules.” Action, coupled with resources and gender equity, is the power machinery which will drive the movement forward, he said. 

Stand up. Speak out. Change the rules.

UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said that attitudes must be changed to ensure young people can access sexual and reproductive health services. By synchronizing the ideals that govern SheDecides and She Conquers (a South African female empowerment movement), the policy gaps found globally, regionally and nationally can be closed. “With a number of critical progressive global programmes, we struggle sometimes to implement at country and regional level,” she said. SheDecides is about closing the gaps and implementing efficiently.

Laura Londén, UNFPA Deputy Executive Director Management, affirmed UNFPA’s commitment to the campaign, which was born out of a global need to support every girl and woman’s right to make independent and free decisions about their sexual and reproductive health.

UNFPA’s three transformative goals – to end unmet need for family planning, end preventable maternal deaths and end gender-based violence and other harmful practices – are at the core of the movement, she said, and she called for a strong sense of urgency towards action.

Fundamental human rights and sexual and reproductive rights must apply to women and girls everywhere, without relativity and without compromise.

Lack of access to modern family planning reinforces intergenerational poverty and leaves girls and women vulnerable to violence and harmful practices. “Fundamental human rights and sexual and reproductive rights must apply to women and girls everywhere, without relativity and without compromise,” she said in a firm call to action.

In the first year of the movement, 40,000 people and 150 organizations signed up to “realize the new normal,” said Ulla Tørnæs, Danish Minister for Development Cooperation. This is the ability of girls and women to make the key decisions about their own bodies and own lives. “We are working for the fundamental rights of girls and women everywhere,” she said.

She Conquers youth champion Lerato Morulane called for the addressing of gender norms. “Being abused (by him) doesn't mean he loves you,” she advised. She called for young people to be actively involved in SheDecides: “Channel the energy we have as young people. That is how we can make sure SheDecides!”

Danish Ambassador to South Africa, Trine Thygesen, said the level of attendance at the flagship event indicated how commitment and resources are key for women and girls who are being excluding from accessing lifesaving sexual and reproductive health solutions.

The SheDecides movement was started by the Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and International Development, Lililane Ploumen, in 2017.  With a resounding thunder clap, SheDecides is changing how people and institutions view access to sexual and reproductive health and rights in every city, country and region around the world.  

Together with our partners from the Danish Embassy and City Property, UNFPA was proud to host the SheDecides movement at the 012central precinct managed by City Property.

- Cleo Okumu and Lindsay Barnes