Dear colleagues and friends,
It is great pleasure to welcome you all to this side-event. “Promoting sexual and reproductive empowerment” is a cornerstone to gender equality. Thus Norway and Sweden have established an active partnership for advocacy, exchange and networking to bring this important agenda forward. Therefore, thank you all for coming.
I specifically wish to highlight the role of IPPF – the International Planned Parenthood Federation - in facilitating this event. They have been decisive for bringing us together here. IPPF is the single most important Civil Society partner of Norway in this field. When we set up a specific gender budget line in 2007, scaling up support for IPPFs work on safe abortion was a first priority.
Why is safe and self-determined abortion so important?
It is a crucial element of sexual and reproductive health and rights. Safe and self-determined abortion need fearless advocacy because it is contested. Some claim to be “pro-life” and therefore wish to abolish abortion. I disagree fundamentally with this view.
Provoked abortions are never wished for, but frequently the only solution to unwanted, premature or life threatening pregnancies. Who is better placed to make that decision than the woman herself? The efforts of pro-choice organisations and champions need our recognition and undivided support.
Lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and trans-gender persons suffer discrimination, gender-based violence and exclusion because of their sexual orientation, gender expression or identity.
Last year I was privileged to visit a Norwegian funded centre for trans-gender persons in Kathmandu, Nepal who, fatally ill from HIV and AIDS, were denied access to care elsewhere. We need recognise and respect the diversity and complexity of human sexuality and gendered identities.
Both Nepal and South Africa have made great strides in abolishing legal discrimination. Yet, attitudes change slowly. But they do change. Our own experience testifies to that. I am proud to say that earlier this year a new act on same-sex marriages entered into force in Norway.
We cannot possibly change patriarchal norms and institutions without involving men and boys and changing our ideas of masculinity.
During my life time, we have seen enormous changes in gender relations in Norway. Particularly important was the introduction in 1993 of a quota for the father in the paid parental leave. It is now a sound economic choice for men and couples to share the parental leave. Young fathers see caring for their children as a privilege and a right.
Their greater involvement in family life has also spurred men to organize to help and change the attitudes of perpetrators of gender based violence. Alternative to Violence provides psychological counselling and training in non-violent conflict resolution.
At the back of the room you will find copies of a freshly printed English version of the Report to the Norwegian Parliament, Stortinget “On Equal Terms: Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in International Development Policy”. I believe it is the first document of its kind in any country and it signals Norway’s strong and long-term commitment to these issues.
Colleagues and friends,
We experience times of global crises. Crises are turning points. The new US administration sends promising signals of a will to dialogue and of renewed US commitment to gender equality, to reproductive and sexual health and rights. These are also times of hope, hope for a better and more just world characterised by gender equality and inclusiveness!
We look forward to the appointment of the new Secretary of Health and Human Services with great expectations.