Representatives of some 50 nations gathered in Brussels at the beginning of March to build a global financial and political partnership for the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of women and girls. The She Decides conference reverberated across the world and was able to raise a total of EUR 181 million to support organisations working on SRHR.

“Human rights includes the right to exercise control over one’s own body, sexuality and reproduction. These are rights that can mean the difference between life and death for a young girl,” said Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate Isabella Lövin in her address.

Kumba from Mali is one of the innumerable victims of a world that does not give girls and women these rights. Kumba became pregnant at 14 and died from an overdose when she tried to terminate the pregnancy on her own using tablets. Her friend Adama Micko related Kumba’s tragic fate to the conference participants.

“We knew nothing about contraceptives and had no access to health care where we could get help. If we had, Kumba would not have died,” said Ms Micko, who now works on these issues in her home country within the framework of the organisation Association Malienne pour la Promotion et la Protection de la Famille.

As many as 225 million women in developing countries lack access to contraceptives and 22 million unsafe abortions are carried out every year. Some 200 million women and girls have been subjected to genital mutilation and 62 million girls do not attend school because of early motherhood or child marriage. These are just some of the many figures presented by the WHO and UNFPA and that represent the global shortcomings in SRHR issues, clearly demonstrating the need for measures.

At the same time, it is clear that work on SRHR produces results. Since the early 1990s, global maternal mortality has almost halved.

“This is an incredible success, but the advances are both uneven and unacceptably slow. One woman or girl still dies every other minute because of complications in pregnancy or childbirth,” said Ms Lövin.

The initiative behind the She Decides conference is partly founded on an ambition to compensate for a future funding reduction of US health aid.

“The progress made globally to almost halve maternal mortality in little more than 20 years is critically threatened. In this situation, it was therefore important to rapidly mobilise both financial and political support for sexual and reproductive health and rights, an issue that is still so charged. And what we succeeding in doing was nothing less than to mobilise a new progressive global alliance for women’s rights,” said Ms Lövin after the conference.

“It is important to remind ourselves of Sweden’s role and responsibility in a time when human rights, international solidarity, multilateralism and the UN are questioned more and more. As the number of wars and conflicts increase, the climate threat spreads and the democratic space shrinks in many countries. She Decides appeared in this context as evidence that there is also a strong opposition.”

At the end of the conference, it was announced that the total sum collected was EUR 181 million. The contributions come from a large variety of countries and also from private financiers via a crowdfunding platform. On 2 March, the Government decided to increase Swedish SRHR aid by EUR 21 million. The donors included the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which contributed USD 20 million. At the end of the conference, it was also announced that an anonymous donation of USD 50 million had been received.

The She Decides conference was jointly arranged by Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden. Belgium hosted the conference.