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Making Sexual Rights Great Again! – three years with US global gag rule

State Secretary Marianne Hagen's statement at the conference ''Make Sexual Rights Great Again'' - by Sex and politics and the Norwegian association for sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me to this important event.

Let me start by saying that we have a lot to celebrate. Over the past decades, we have seen progress for women’s rights on many fronts, especially in the areas of maternal health and family planning. Over the last 25 years, maternal mortality has fallen by 44 %.

However, this progress is not enough, when inequality remains and further progress is being threatened.

The reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule (GGR) by the US threatens progress.

Evidence from the previous period the policy was implemented show that the policy has far-reaching consequences, both intended and unintended.

The fact that the biggest burden is borne by the poorest women and girls, and by those who are most vulnerable to exclusion and discrimination, makes the policy especially hard to accept.

The US attacks SRHR both financially and normatively.

The attacks are part of the strong conservative headwinds we are facing from many places in the world today. The surge of populism and nationalism is fuelling discontent and eroding trust in globalisation and international institutions.

We are seeing increasing pressure on many of the norms, rights and values that are of fundamental importance to us. We are seeing this in the UN, but also in other international organisations.

Norms and rights that were agreed on decades ago can no longer be taken for granted. We have to be smart and effective in our efforts to push back the pushback.

I keep asking myself why women are always targeted, and why sexual and reproductive health and rights are controversial when they are so obviously essential for the health and wellbeing of all.  

It is puzzling, to say the least, that many countries attack women’s rights – and SRHR  – in order to protect family values!

So what can we do to address the pressure that is being put on women’s rights and SRHR?

We must deal with the world as it is – not as we would like it to be.

We must be principled. We have to speak up. We must refuse to budge on this issue.

We need to build broad alliances. There is broad, regional support for women’s rights, and for sexual and reproductive health and rights in many places. We must make people understand that this is not a ‘Western issue’. And that protecting sexual and reproductive rights does not threaten what people call ‘traditional family values’. Quite the contrary, in fact.

We must continue to base our arguments on facts and evidence.

We have to be on the offensive. We must seek to advance women’s rights, not simply defend them. We must not allow ourselves to be pushed back. We are proud to say that in 2019, Norway, together with a number of likeminded countries, succeeded in maintaining the strong language on women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in almost all negotiations on UN resolutions. This is important for the UN’s work on the ground.

Lastly, we must listen to and engage in partnerships with civil society organisations. And we have to fund them. We must also make sure that the UN has sufficient funding to carry out its normative work.

For a small country like Norway, it may be hard to change the great powers’ positions, but despite our size, we can certainly put up a fight!

Financially, Norway is one of the world’s biggest contributors to efforts to promote SRHR.

In response to the reinstatement of the global gag rule, we increased our support for SRHR. We have also expressed our concerns over the global gag rule directly to the US State Department on more than one occasion.

During the Nairobi Summit in November, Norway made a commitment to remain a global champion for SRHR, both financially and politically.

You can read all the commitments on the conference webpage, so I will only give you the headlines now. In short, Norway has pledged to invest NOK 10.4 billion in SRHR over the next six years. This includes NOK 760 million for efforts to combat harmful practices over the next four years.

In addition, Norway has pledged NOK 1 billion to protect against sexual and gender-based violence and to provide sexual and reproductive health services in humanitarian situations.

Sexual violence is still widespread in conflict areas, and women have too little say in peacekeeping operations that are supposed to ensure their safety. That is also why Norway has taken the role as a champion for women’s peace and security in the UN Secretary-General’s ‘Action for Peacekeeping’ initiative.

2020 is a very important year. We will mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, and the 20th anniversary of the UN Security Council resolution on women, peace and security. This year we will assess the progress that has been made, and celebrate our achievements. But first and foremost, we will strengthen the fight for women’s rights.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights provide an important framework for ensuring women’s freedom, power and opportunities. If girls and women cannot decide over their own bodies, this affects their ability to go to school, to work and to participate in society. This is also why access to comprehensive sexuality education, family planning and safe abortion, as well as freedom from violence and harmful practices, are so fundamental in the fight for gender equality.

It is hard to understand why this is controversial. We should not have to use time and resources on defending rights that have been agreed

Let there be no doubt, Norway will do what it can to prevent any erosion of these rights.

We must all work together. Thank you all for your contributions.

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