04 August 2017

She Decides, We Build the Movement

We recently had a chance to meet and talk to Heather Barclay from the She Decides support unit. Are you curious about its role and what its strategy is for the development of this movement? Check out our interview!

During the ministerial conference in March in Brussels, it was said that the SheDecides Initiative is a beginning of a new, global movement. Soon after, the SheDecides Support Unit was created. Could you tell us what the Support Unit is and how you see its role? 

I think it’s probably best, when thinking about the creation of SheDecides, to actually go back, not to the March 2nd conference, but to the election of Donald Trump. We know he was inaugurated in January and then the Global Gag Rule was signed and it was really expanded. There was a huge anger and frustration and passion from women, their families and communities all over the world in response to Donald Trump. I think it was very much from that sense of anger and indignation about the idea that our shared values, our collective values, are being eroded by somebody that, a lot of people felt, didn’t represent what they believed in. So I think that was actually a spark to SheDecides. From that kind of global upraising of people around the world, some European governments also felt this anger and this passion. I think it’s important to flag this because SheDecides didn’t come from anywhere. It came from the sense that we, as SRHR providers, as women, as families are under attack. And what the SheDecides movement did was really take that feeling of passion, feeling of momentum and capitalize on it. 

And that response then resulted in what became the SheDecides conference in March. What was interesting about that was the number of governments that immediately and almost intuitively said “We are in”. And for me that’s a really powerful thing because it’s not just about political decision making, it was really on a human level. Individuals who happened to be in governments, saying this is not ok. And reflecting this commitment, 180 million euros was pledged. Governments from all over the world who didn’t pledge also spoke very passionately about the issues. So you have people who are saying “even if we are not pledging, we are still there with you. Even if we are not pledging, we are very angry and we are willing to take action”. And that spark is what created the SheDecides movement. And from then on, we’ve got this passion, we’ve got this initiative, there is financial support from governments and others – what are we doing with it? What’s next? How can we build on this incredible outpouring of support and use SheDecides for on-going change? I has become a way of saying “this is our rallying cry”. This is a way that we can understand our movement, that we can frame our movement, as individuals, as networks, as national advocates, as service providers, as whoever. This can be who we are. 

So what has happened after the conference in March?

What came up next was a big discussion about where it goes from here and how to turn a political initiative into a movement. Can you do that? What does it look like? The Children's Investment Fund Foundation decided to offer hosting the support unit to figure out what that movement is, what it looks like and how we could continue the momentum. What we are doing over the next period is to figure out the SheDecides brand and how we can support and inspire change.. The way we are conceptualizing it is to keep that movement spirit and work with Friends and Torchbearers - people who are committed, to support them to take the movement forward. So people who stand up and say “I will do this for SheDecides” – they can take it forward in their own way. For instance, if you are an artist, it might be about creating SheDecides material, music and art. If you are a national activist, it might be about having a discussion group in your own country. So it’s about individuals, collectively moving in the spirit of SheDecides. 

Who is in the support unit?

It’s four of us: Rebekka van Roemburg who used to work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands co-leads the unit with Robin Gorna who has worked a lot with the AIDS movement. They are supported by me focusing on policy and content background. We have also a communications specialist, Josie Smart, and administrative support from Children's Investment Fund Foundation. So that’s who we are. 

And so your role is than to facilitate the interactions between different actors, from various spaces you already mentioned, who are involved in the SheDecides movement and put it all together, right?

The Support Unit has been set up for  6 months and the idea is that after 6 months we will know if it’s working, if it’s resonating and how SheDecides is contributing to the SRHR space.  In these 6 months, we have 3 main areas of focus. The first one is to identify and bring  Friends and Torchbearers to the movement. The second one is around creating a new narrative around SRHR. Is there a way that we can make our issues clearer and more approachable?  How can we shift the conversation so it’s less technical and more human. And the third thing we are doing is tracking the impact of the Global Gag Rule, not ourselves but through research and people such as Guttmacher, IPPF, PAI, looking at where funding is needed and raise more resources.

What is the model used for this movement? 

The Torchbearers are the main representatives of SheDecides. They are cross-regional, represent the movement and are championing SRHR. Then we also have a group of friends. Friends of SheDecides are anybody who support the manifesto and is willing to take an action. You can be an individual or an organization, and can take what ever action is appropriate in your own context to  support SheDecides. As an individual you may campaign locally. It might be that you do social media around SheDecides issues. There is a wide range of things you can do as an individual. As an organisation, it’s a similar thing, to keep the momentum up. So Torchbearers are big leaders, public faces, people who are absolutely there and pushing the agenda forward, andFriends are the people who support the movement in their own spaces. So that the basis of the movement model that we’re working under

How do you see a role for civil society in the SheDecides architecture and how will you work together with civil society? Is there a role for private sector?

SheDecides is not an architecture, is not a structure or a governance or a working group. It’s very much a movement, based on the idea that it is designed to amplify and support existing work, and to be a spark for advancing the agenda. So what is our vision of working with civil society? The question really is – how does civil society want to work with SheDecides. The name and the brand is available to anyone to help raise the profile of their issues and work, and to support in them in what they are doing.  If it’s useful for you at national level to stand behind the SheDecides banner, then go ahead. If you want to do fundraising in the name of SheDecides, then do it. It’s up to you because as a Torchbearer or a friend of SheDecides, you can use the name as you wish and you can use it in a way that is helpful for you. So if you are an NGO from a country operating in a challenging context, you can say “I stand with my colleagues from SheDecides” it may give you a little bit of political cover. So from my point of view, it’s up to civil society to decide how they want to use the SheDecides movement to support their work.  

So somehow it’s participatory driven and SheDecides is basically a brand?

Our vision is for SheDecides to be the banner that brings together all the diverse and powerful elements of the SRHR movement and beyond. Organizations working on access to abortion can do so in the name of ensuring that SheDecides. Organizations working to fight child marriage or FGM can do so in the name of SheDecides. SheDecides can be the banner that all of the broad range of SRHR issues and organizations can coalesce under, demonstrating the diversity of our movement and the numerous challenges that we can address before we see a world where women and girls are finally free.

Thank you Heather for sharing your insights!

You will have a chance to hear more about the impact of current geopolitical changes on SRHR funding and programmes during the 2017 EuroNGOs Conference, Heather will be there with us too!  

See also the SheDecides website, sign the manifesto and get involved.