“Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are one of the most explicitly ‘feminist’ areas for national and international policy. They are concerned with women’s bodily autonomy and freedom; with their ability to exercise decision-making over their future; and they are essential for women’s health and well-being.” - Dr. Jennifer Thomson and Dr. Claire Pierson
A feminist foreign policy cannot be truly feminist without knowledge of, and advocacy for, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). However, despite (and perhaps as a result of) the fact that women’s full emaciation cannot be achieved without SRHR, this focus has, and continues to be, one of the greatest obstacles to a global acceptance of feminist foreign policy.
In spite of hard-won progress, SRHR continue to face setback and threats from many conservative ruling states. Such attitudes are carried from domestic level governments into internationally governing bodies where they influence SRHR in the global arena. This is especially concerning when adopted by global-powerhouses such as the United States, who’s commitment to global funding not only shapes agendas, but has actively moved to block SRHR (Global Gag Rule) and prevent women from making decisions regarding their bodily autonomy.
In addition to facing barriers when making decisions about their own bodies, women are consistently under-represented at decision making tables at the global level. Within healthcare specifically, recent statistics reveal that although women make up 70% of the global health workforce, only 31% of global health organisations and 20% of boards are led by women. In addition, women have less visibility, recognition and influence then men, shaping the health agenda at all levels.
The under-representation of female decision leaders within healthcare governance, coupled with the fact that women continue to be under-represented within governments worldwide, means that the unique healthcare needs of women are often inadequately addressed, underfunded and under-resourced at all levels of healthcare governance. This proves especially true during times of crisis.
Times of crisis - including the current COVID-19 pandemic - have the potential to seriously undermine hard-won gender and reproductive rights around the world. For example, during the Coronavirus crisis, we have seen:
- Countries use the crisis as an opportunity to restrict/attempt to restrict access to abortion, for example, in the United States and Poland;
- Legislation concerning the legalisation of abortion set aside or prevented from progressing into law, for example, in Northern Ireland;
- Inconsistency among decision makers around whether to deem access to abortion and other sexual health and reproductive services as essential health procedures;
- Increased barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion - for example, in Malta, Brazil, and in refugee camps.
Based on previous crises, we know that the rollback of SRHR is a trend not unique to the COVID crisis. For example, a SRHR regression occurred during the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. During which time, barriers to accessing maternal health care resulted in decreased numbers of women giving birth at health centres and increased deaths of women during or just after childbirth.
With these and anticipated future setbacks in mind, how can a feminist foreign policy be shaped and applied so that rollbacks on sexual and reproductive health and rights can be monitored, called out and ultimately condemned by the global community?
The defence of abortion right should become a « purple line » of any feminist diplomacy (idea by Claire Guiraud and Kaya Pawloska)
Whereas recent years have involved new backlashes for abortion right, its defence remains low in diplomatic priorities. It should become a « purple line » of any feminist diplomacy.
Recent years have, unfortunately, involved new backlashes for abortion right and reproductive health services in some regions, making feminist foreign policy more important than ever. In the United States, the conservative Trump administration is becoming the champion of abortion opponents. As the first President to attend an anti-abortion rally, he also banned federal money supporting international groups which perform or provide information on abortions. Within the European union, whereas abortion is not (yet?) a minimum required standard (very restrictive conditions in Germany to total prohibition in Malta), this right is under attack from growing far-right groups, nationalism and populism (Poland, Croatia, etc.).
Whereas access to safe abortion has been established as a human right by numerous international frameworks and is fundamental for women to be free to choose and have control over their lives, the defence of abortion right remains low in European national and regional diplomatic priorities.
*THE DEFENCE OF ABORTION RIGHT SHOULD BECOME A « PURPLE LINE » OF ANY FEMINIST DIPLOMACY.*
Why purple? Purple is the colour of feminism. First used by British suffragists in the early 20th century, combined with white and green, purple is now the world-wide recognised colour of feminism as a social movement defending women’s rights.
What should purple lines designate?
Abortion as a LINE OF ATTACK, i.e. that feminist diplomacies should use the maximum of existing frameworks, roles and tools to promote full abortion right for all women:
- Within international multilateral organisations, through discourses (resolutions, annual speeches from head of States at the UN General Assembly for instance, or in high-level conferences) and through investments in funds and programmes (like UNFPA or other related initiatives).
- Within regional multilateral organisations, specifically for EU member states, in pushing for abortion to become a minimum required standard to belong to the community and in pressuring European institutions to be in stronger support of abortion right, including in the EU Action Plan on gender equality and in EU external relations.
- Within national diplomacy through embassies towards foreign governments and legal institutions and through the appointment of a dedicated “Ambassador for feminism.”
- Within bilateral development cooperation in allocating a significant share of official development assistance towards abortion support and in advocating it to other national, regional or international development agencies (including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank).
- In supporting abortion rights defenders through financial support and advocacy for their freedom of expression and opinion.
Abortion as a DEFENSIVE LINE, i.e. attacking abortion right should be considered as unacceptable and as a line not to be crossed. Feminist diplomacies should advocate towards the UN Security Council to systematically incorporate attack on abortion right, and sexual violence more generally, as a criterion when adopting a new sanctions regime and to consider access to abortion rights and services in international responses to migration and humanitarian emergencies.
Finally, abortion should also become a RALLYING LINE for feminist diplomacies to build strategic alliances. Stronger together to advocate for the pill that saves women lives!
Points of Interest/Things to Consider:
Funding a global supply chain
Funding for Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health be used to create and maintain a global supply chain of the necessary products required for women to maintain full autonomy over their bodies. This would allow for the funding of products and services in countries with repressive governments who refuse to provide the funds for sexual and reproductive health. Such funding could also be used to address the barriers that women face to receiving full and proper health care, for example, transport and healthcare costs. SheDecides (best practice)
Women have been absent from, or underrepresented in Covid crisis response teams across the globe. As a result, women’s voices, experiences and unique concerns have often not been taken into account. This has played a role in the global setbacks to SRHR and needs to be addressed.
Issues cannot be addressed unless they are accurately named. With this in mind, those writing and advocating for feminist foreign policies need to be prepared for backlash - in the case of SRHR, especially when referencing abortion and gender-specific terms (for example, gender-based violence).