Saturday, 13 July, 2024

Born from Trump’s gag rule, SheDecides grows into global campaign


By Aashish Mishra
Kathmandu, Apr. 6: On January 23, 2017, the then American President Donald Trump signed an executive order reintroducing the Mexico City policy or the ‘global gag rule’ as it came to be commonly known. The rule banned any non-governmental organisation working with US federal funding anywhere in the world from providing abortion-related services.
Trump’s move was anticipated but its scale was not. The gag rule has been implemented by every Republican president since it was first introduced by Ronald Reagan in 1984 but never had been applied to all global healthcare programmes instead of just family planning services.
In response to the executive order, on January 24, 2017, the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Lilianne Ploumen called on donors to come together to provide the US$ 8.8 billion that would allow organisations to continue supporting abortion and reproductive health initiatives without US support. This was followed by a conference in Brussels two months later where more than 50 countries attended and raised US$ 200 million for the institutions that had refused to abide by the gag order. The SheDecides movement was born.
That conference got the ball rolling on a movement that has since evolved into a global grassroots campaign for the fundamental rights of women and girls everywhere to have control of their own bodies, said Sanila Gurung, programme director of the Beyond Beijing Committee (BBC) Nepal.
BBC Nepal is a feminist human rights national network which has been supporting the SheDecides movement in Nepal and hosting its associated events in coordination with Asian- Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW), International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Right Here, Right Now and Visible Impact.
“SheDecides has moved beyond the gag order and is now a collective movement seeking an end to the restrictions still present in our states and societies that keep women from deciding on matters related to their body,” Gurung said.
Sabina Pokhrel, senior programme officer at Visible Impact and a 25X25 SheDecides Young Leader, explained the main motto of the SheDecides movement, “No one but I should decide over my body.”
In Nepal, the movement has added further dimensions to itself, working in the areas of gender-based violence, including violence directed at the LGBTQI+ community, sexual and reproductive health of adolescents and safe motherhood.
Crucially, SheDecides is about reaching out to young people, mainly adolescents. “We aim to give them space, listen to them and understand their perspectives,” Pokhrel said. “We believe that when adolescents are informed, they inform their peers. They make better decisions.”
In order to engage youths, the movement keeps itself active on social media, principally Facebook and Instagram. It also holds virtual meetings and interactions, something that has intensified with the onset of COVID-19. Even when SheDecides does hold physical programmes, they make sure to make it youth-friendly, meaning non-formal and art-oriented. An example is its most recent programme on March 26 at Hotel Shangri-La in Kathmandu which had musical performances, painting, drama and breakout sessions. “The intention is to keep the environment light and fresh and put the participants at ease so they can discuss their issues comfortably and openly,” Gurung added.
And youths have responded overwhelmingly to the movement’s efforts, Gurung informed, adding that young people had approached BBC Nepal and SheDecides on various platforms. “They want to know. They want to participate. They want to be aware,” she said.
Despite what the name suggests, though, SheDecides is not only about ‘she.’ The movement also prioritises ‘he.’ As Pokhrel put it, “Boys and men also need to know about reproductive health, they also need to make the right choices. This movement is for everyone.”
Internationally too, leaders and activists associated with SheDecides have stressed the essential role of men in the empowerment of women. “Male support will accelerate the movement,” Pokhrel added.
Well, if the movement seeks to include all genders then why the emphasis on ‘she’? Why is it ‘SheDecides’ and not ‘WeDecide’? According to Gurung and Pokhrel, it’s because women have been disproportionately affected by social and legal restrictions on reproduction. “Men’s access to, say birth control, isn’t as controlled as women. Women’s bodies are more regulated and more legislated than men. Laws, policies, family, stigma and taboo keep women across the world from achieving their full potential,” they said.
“That is why SheDecides.”