31 January 2017

Women’s March and Global Gag rule – first takeaways of an eventful January 2017

2017 has taken an eventful start when it comes to women’s and sexual and reproductive rights, to say the least. The Women’s March made history as more than four million people across the globe took the streets against the newly elected Donald Trump and in solidarity with those fighting for women's rights and social justice around the world. Not more than 2 days later, on his first day into office, the new president reinstated the Abortion ‘Global Gag Rule’. We summarized some take-aways from these important events.

1. Unfortunately, we cannot take hard-won women’s, sexual or reproductive rights for granted. Trump only needed a few hours in office to reinstate the anti-choice ‘gag rule’. In the Bush-era, the policy resulted in more than 20 developing countries in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East losing access to contraceptives provided by the US. The new rule under Trump goes even further than previous GGRs, affecting US funding for global health and not ‘just’ family planning. For the first time ever the rule hence also targets international organizations who work on any U.S. funded global health program, including HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, maternal and child health, and Zika programs. IPPF and others in our sector will lose millions of dollars due to the reinstatement.

The continued rise of nationalism and populism across the globe, including in Europe, shows that sexual and reproductive health and rights are hard-won rights and we have to be cautious. As Françoise Girard of the International Women’s Health Coalition rightly stated in response to the USA’ administration decision, “Women’s rights—and in particular reproductive rights—often act like a ‘canary in the coal mine’ of human rights. When the overall danger to human rights is not clear to most observers, feminist activists see the first signs of what is to come.”

2. We can mobilise around gender and SRHR issues. Sometimes the international policy and advocacy work a lot of our organisations do can feel disconnected from the grassroots. Last year’s mass mobilisation around the abortion ban in Poland, and the by now historic ‘Women’s March on Washington’ shows that people very much care about these issues and can still take the street to show that solidarity. Women’s marches took place on every continent, all happening in a peaceful and non-violent way. Organisers immediately also made clear this is not a one-off event, and launched a new campaign: 10 Actions for the first 100 Days. Solidarity and feeling united with millions of people defending women’s rights around the world is definitely a key outcome of the march.

3. We have to believe in a silver lining. The re-introduction of the global gag rule immediately caused a lot of outrage, and not just within the SRHR community. People who before had never heard about the issue, now read and shared information about the impact of the policy and the importance of the right for choice.3.

In response also, other decision-makers have spoken out about the need to now step up efforts to safeguard and advance sexual and reproductive health and rights. The day after the announcement on the Global gag rule, the Dutch Government already responded by announcing that they would create a pooled funding mechanism for abortion contraception, and reproductive health information. The Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Lilianne Ploumen launched the She Decides, Global Fundraising initiative, which will be managed by EuroNGOs member Rutgers. Further, the Belgian Minister for Development Cooperation De Croo responded that Belgium will host an international conference to get further support for the fund. Similar to initiatives that followed the gag rule under the Bush administration, the purpose would be to compensate the financial setback as much as possible. Both Ministers announced that they’ll be talking to other governments, organisations and business over the course of the coming weeks to find support for the idea. 


We hope that apart from increasing development finances, countries will also be championing these issues within diplomatic efforts. This is the time for Europe to step-up its game, and walk the talk. We are definitely hopeful for what will follow, and will support the fight of our member organisations and the gains made for SRHR in the past years.