By Minister Ulla Tørnæs
My vision – as a Minister for Development Cooperation, as a SheDecides champion, and not least as a mother of three young daughters – is to help create a “New Normal” for all women and girls around the world. A new normal means a world, where women and girls have the power over their own bodies. Their own lives. Their own futures. Without question. Across the globe, we have witnessed several setbacks for the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of women and girls over the last years. Most prominently was the re-instatement of an expanded version of the Global Gag Rule by the Trump administration. Moreover, conservative and religious movements in many parts of the world have been causing us to worry about the current normal.
The current normal is that almost 225 million women and girls globally have unmet needs for contraception. The current normal is that two million girls under the age of 15 become mothers every year. Around 22 million unsafe abortions are carried out with life as a risk. Every day more than 800 women and girls die from preventable causes related to pregnancy or childbirth. This is the normal for millions of the most vulnerable women around the world. I want to contribute to changing that normal. Therefore, women and girls’ full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and their access to modern contraception and comprehensive sexuality education is a key priority for me personally and for Danish development cooperation. I believe that countries like Denmark have to stand up and fight for those millions of girls and women who do not enjoy the same fundamental human rights as we do. I believe it is my obligation as a minister – with the voice, platform and seat at relevant tables that it comes with – to try to speak for the many women and girls, who cannot be there themselves.
It is my firm conviction that a woman has the right to choose with whom she wants to start a family, when, and if, she wants to have children and how many children she wants. We know that women and girls with access to education, information and health services tend to marry later in life, have fewer and healthier children and to become active citizens, who contribute to their societies.
When women’s potential as economic agents is unleashed, women’s rights take leaps ahead and it creates a ripple effect for societies. Investing in women is therefore not only the right thing to do. We also know that it is the smart thing to do. When we invest in women, everybody wins.
At the SheDecides conference in South Africa in March, we stood shoulder by shoulder – governments, parliamentarians, youth representatives, and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) showcasing the broad international support to create a new normal for all women and girls. We need to rally support from North and South – from individuals to states. From the poorest villages in Africa to the highest political levels in the UN. Everyone can do his or her part. And governments can play a key role. Governments can act to create a new normal.
The three pillars of the SheDecides movement are Stand Up and Speak Out, Change the Rules, and Unlock the Resources. Governments can do all three. The way to move forward may differ greatly from country to country. In some cases, there will be a need to adopt new policies, revise legislation or ensure better implementation of existing laws. In other cases, there is a need to change perceptions, behaviours and cultures. And in some to improve service provision. Governments have a role to play in all those cases, but governments cannot do it alone. We must work in strong partnerships with parliamentarians, civil society, private sector and youth-led movements.
In Denmark, most pregnancies are fortunately happy circumstances. Women and girls largely have the power over their own bodies and life. Denmark has come a long way towards gender equality. People often say that this is because Denmark is a rich country. I argue the opposite: It is because of gender equality that Denmark is a prosperous country. As an example, Danish women and men are almost equally available for the labour market – 72 percent of women, 76 percent of men. This is good for our democracy and good for our economy.
Globally, we cannot achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, if women are not an active part of the development of their countries. For this to happen, women must have control over their own bodies.
My vision is therefore a new normal. A new normal where all women and girls have the ability to enjoy their rights, fulfill their potential, and make their own choices in life. The message is as important as it is simple: She decides!