It has been a challenging year for women. Emboldened by the rise of conservatism, ideologues ramped up their efforts to attack sexual and reproductive rights worldwide. The election of Donald Trump in the United States continued its ripple effects, with severely negative implications for women and girls globally. From attempts to roll back abortion rights in Brazil, Poland, and the United States to the inclusion of known “hate groups” on a US delegation to the United Nations, it was a year to reckon with.
Yet, difficult times highlight the resilience of the women’s movement. The International Women’s Health Coalition, our grantee partners, and countless people who believe in rights banded together in this struggle. With courage, expertise and solidarity, we are resisting, persisting, and advancing an agenda for women and girls every day. Below, are some bright spots.
Strengthened Resistance in Washington, DC
IWHC participated in the now historic Women’s March on Washington, and sister manifestations on almost every continent, in January 2017. We supported and joined the march with pride, knowing that the next few years would require resilience and strengthened partnerships with sister groups across the United States.
Thus, when the Trump administration threatened to dismantle the mission of the Barack Obama-era Let Girls Learn initiative in May—a signature US program committed to education for girls worldwide—IWHC mobilized broad advocacy coalitions in Washington, DC to ensure its survival. Within a few days, the administration backtracked, and today the mission of Let Girls Learn continues.
We also supported the Keeping Girls in School Act to preserve the mission of the US Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls—committing the US government to fund global programs that support all aspects of girls’ lives, from their schooling to their sexual and reproductive health.
Defended Abortion Rights
Just one day after President Trump reinstated and drastically expanded the Global Gag Rule—preventing any foreign organization that receives US global health funding from even mentioning abortion—the Dutch Government announced the She Decides initiative to mitigate the gap. IWHC joined governments and civil society organizations from around the world to launch She Decides, and pledged: to continue funding feminist organizations worldwide, to press for global policies in support of abortion rights and reproductive health, and to hold the US government accountable.
While the money raised through She Decides will be a lifeline, this initiative alone cannot offset the harmful impacts of the rule. Seeking a long-term solution, IWHC backed and supported the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights (HER) Act, an effort to permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule. The Global HER Act is an important step towards protecting women’s lives and regaining their autonomy.
Kept Global Cooperation Alive
The US may be moving toward increasing isolation and a retrenchment from international diplomacy, but there is hope for women’s rights at the United Nations. In June, our advocacy in coalition with LGBTI and reproductive rights organizations contributed to two resolutions at the UN Human Rights Council reaffirming the autonomy of women and girls, the importance of sexuality education, and the right to control all matters related to one’s sexuality. Several countries brought forth new language that strengthens sexual and reproductive rights by condemning patriarchal norms, urging the repeal of laws that criminalize the actions or behaviors of women and girls, and recognizing the heightened risk of sexual and reproductive rights violations in humanitarian settings.
Ensured Women and Girls Count
Millions of women and girls are currently invisible to governments and policymakers because vital data about their lives is not being recorded. This year, IWHC worked to show the extent of the data gap and its dire consequences as part of Equal Measures 2030—an independent civil society and private sector-led partnership that envisions a world where gender equality is achieved. At the UN General Assembly, Equal Measures succeeded in showing that policymakers in several countries displayed a disturbing gap in knowledge about the gender realities in their nations. Our demand for data cannot be ignored, and Equal Measures will continue to issue research and tools in the coming year.
Funded the Feminist Movement
With a continuous decline in funding for women’s rights groups, IWHC acted as a counterforce, injecting increased funds to women’s organizations and individual feminist leaders across 40 countries to advance the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls. These groups use a range of strategies to protect and expand access to safe and legal abortion, including pursuing legal and policy change; educating health workers; building networks of pro-choice doctors and lawyers; ensuring women and girls can easily access accurate information about abortion services; and fighting attempts to rollback existing rights.
There is no shortage of talent and energy to secure our rights. The future is indeed, feminist.