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Gender equality

Gender equality is a human right. It is also essential for eradicating poverty and improving the lives of future generations. Gender equality is at the heart of all our programming and advocacy work. IPPF pushes for legal and policy reforms which combat female genital mutilation (FGM), early forced marriage and other forms of gender discrimination.

Articles by Gender equality

The American flag with stars and stripes

Statement on the first anniversary of the rescindment of the Global Gag Rule

28 January 2022 heralds one year since President Biden rescinded the harmful Global Gag Rule (GGR). Otherwise known as the Mexico City Policy, its expansion in 2017 under Trump affected 12 billion dollars of funding, impacting thousands of life-saving healthcare services worldwide – especially across low-income countries. But while rescindment is a positive first step, the long-term harm of the Global Gag Rule lingers on. For IPPF, 53 healthcare projects in 32 countries were hit, with some Member Associations losing up to 60% of their funding. Programmes affected include HIV prevention and care, maternal health and nutrition, STI services, gender-based violence prevention, and services for vulnerable children. And although we have begun to re-establish long-standing partnerships, it takes time for funding to flow and to re-open closed healthcare clinics and community services – with some lost forever. In the meantime, there are women and girls who desperately need healthcare that have nowhere to turn. But in February, the US Congress has an opportunity to change the sexual and reproductive health landscape forever through a final negotiated funding bill that includes a permanent end to the deadly Global Gag Rule. As we celebrate one year of rescindment, we know the work is not done yet, but we are hopeful for the futures of millions of women and girls worldwide. We urge the US Congress to permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule to fully eradicate the lasting impact of the Mexico City Policy that has harmed women and girls around the world for 40 years.   Dr Alvaro Bermejo, Director-General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, said: "Five years ago, Trump expanded the Global Gag Rule, a devastating neo-colonialist policy that forbids US aid to any organization that supports access to safe abortion care, disproportionately affecting women and girls in low-income countries. Today we mark one year since President Biden rescinded it, but the long-term harm and impacts don't simply go away.  "The Gag Rule is a callously designed mechanism set up to deny women and girls the right to decide what happens to their bodies. Its implementation doesn't just destroy life-saving abortion services but erodes access to other sexual and reproductive healthcare, including contraception, leading ultimately to increases in unintended pregnancy and forcing many to turn to unsafe and dangerous abortion methods.   "While rescindment is a positive first step, the looming threat of reinstatement under future anti-rights administrations undermines the sustainability of global sexual health programs and the pace of progress. After 40 long years, the time to act is now – we urge the US Congress to end this political game and stand up for the futures of millions of at-risk women and girls by permanently repealing the Global Gag Rule.  "By leaving a legacy that gives hope and stability to the sexual and reproductive health of people worldwide, the US will once again be a champion, leader, and innovator of human rights for all." For media inquiries please contact [email protected] 

A woman with her hand in front of her face. Written on her hand is "STOP"
10 December 2021

16 days, 16 ways: How we can help end violence against women and girls

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) kicked off on November 25 – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends today 10 December – Human Rights Day. Gender-based violence refers to harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender and is rooted in gender inequality, the abuse of power and harmful norms. Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is a human rights violation and a public health issue. It can include physical, sexual, economic, and psychological violence, as well as threats, coercion, child and early forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and so-called ‘honour killings. Sadly, it is estimated that one in three women (35%) of women worldwide will experience sexual or physical violence in their lifetime. This figure has remained largely unchanged for the last decade. Violence against women and girls also disproportionately affects low-income countries. To mark the 16 Days campaign, here are 16 ways to help end violence against women and girls. 1. Listen to survivors and believe them It takes a lot of courage to share experiences of gender-based and sexual violence, and knowing that their experiences are heard can aid healing and encourage more survivors to speak out. 2. Increase the visibility of young women and girls in discussions concerning their sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights All conversations leading to policy change should be led by and involve survivors. A ‘survivor-centred’ respectful approach to sexual and gender-based discussions can encourage other survivors to come forward without fear of stigma. 3. Stand up against the normalization of sexual violence in all its forms Rape culture is the social environment that allows sexual violence to be normalized and justified. Acknowledging the normalization of sexual violence is the first step to dismantling it, and educating men and boys on positive masculinity, respectful relationships, and consent are just some ways to disrupt it. Leaders respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights obligations to gender equality can help too. 4. Call for adequate support services Many women and girls lack access to the most basic free essential services for their safety, protection and recovery, such as emergency helplines, safe accommodation, proper police and justice responses, sexual and reproductive health care and psycho-social counselling. Where these services exist, they are underfunded and understaffed. Governments must provide free support for survivors of gender-based violence, including comprehensive training for health providers. Individuals can support campaigns that demand adequate funding for support services. 5. Comprehensive sexuality education Comprehensive sexuality education is vital to teach young people about bodily autonomy, their relationships with each other and to help them understand that freely given consent is mandatory every time. Equipping young people with knowledge about their rights and healthy and safe relationships has a long-term positive effect on their health and well-being. 6. Educate young people but also listen to them Education is essential, but listening to young people’s experiences is also crucial to empowering the next generation. If young people feel heard, they are more likely to want to instigate change. 7. Data is key – utilize it One in three women and girls will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, and learning the statistics means you can share the right information when needed. Collecting and utilising relevant data is also vital for governments to implement successful prevention measures and provide survivors with the right support, especially when reaching marginalised and underserved women. Legislations and policies should also cover comprehensive definitions of all forms of sexual gender-based violence. 8. Take time to educate yourself on gender-based issues Learn the signs of gender-based violence and abuse and how to help someone in need. There is support for survivors of gender-based violence if you know where to look, and action today could help save someone’s life tomorrow. 9. Challenge gender norms that lead to gender inequality Harmful gender norms can lead to gender inequality and, in turn, higher rates of gender-based violence. For example, gender norms can keep girls out of education and higher paid work, limiting their independence, increasing their financial dependence on men and making it difficult to leave violent situations. Gender norms can also leave the voices and experiences of girls undervalued and ignored. By challenging and changing harmful social norms, we can increase gender equality and reduce gender-based violence. 10. Hold yourself and other people accountable Accountability means taking responsibility for your actions and knowing that your actions can directly affect others. Challenge your peers to reflect on their behaviour and speak up when someone crosses the line. 11. Support each other and condemn violence against women  Together we stand divided we fall. Supporting women and those working to end gender-based violence is essential to achieving gender equality and ending violence against women; this includes government’s and leaders condemning all acts of violence and discrimination against women. Individuals can support a survivor, share a post on social media or volunteer on a helpline. By supporting each other, we can help create a safer environment for everyone. 12. Donate to and fund women’s rights organizations The COVID-19 pandemic has left many women and girls trapped in closed environments with their abusers. Even a small amount to an organization working to combat gender-based violence can make a difference, especially when so many organizations are struggling with reduced funding but increased demand for services. Donating toiletries, sanitary products, clothes, bedding and toys to a local women’s refuge or support service for women and their children who have escaped domestic violence situations can help too. When people and governments recognise women’s rights organizations as expert partners in the fight to end violence against women, everyone benefits. 13. Use social media Using social media platforms to start a conversation and show solidarity with survivors of gender-based violence is just a small act that can create change in communities. 14. Share success stories, positive role models and solutions that work When people see positive role models and solutions, they feel more empowered to help make a difference too. Positive and diverse representation is also important.  15. Protect women and girls in digital spaces Gaps in criminal laws mean that misogyny is rife in digital spaces, with women and girls subject to online harassment, cyber-flashing, revenge porn and other forms of digital gender-based violence. Laws must be designed to protect women, with proper content moderation systems in place. 16. Understand that it takes everyone to make a change Any successful effort to end violence against women must involve everyone. This includes governments and leaders, and people who commit violence or tacitly condone it. We can’t end violence against women alone.

A healthcare worker
26 November 2021

Samoa: A holistic approach to ending sexual and gender-based violence

With a tiny population of just under 200,000 people, data shows that people in the Polynesian Island nation of Samoa on average enjoy a higher quality of life than other countries in the Pacific. And in July 2021, Samoa elected its first female Prime Minister, Fiama Naomi Mata’afa, which generated hope and excitement for more progress for women and girls. But the Prime Minister has her work cut out for her; during the country’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights council in November, the need to address gender-based violence was a recurring issue.   "There is a significant problem with violence towards several different vulnerable groups in Samoa, particularly people of sexual and gender minorities, people with disabilities, women and girls, and children," said Thalia Kehoe Rowden, a representative of the Initiative.   Alarming rates of SGBV   Like nearly every other country around the world, the Pacific Islands are prone to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) – a critical human rights issue that pervades many aspects of society. Global estimates published this year by the World Health Organization indicate that about 1 in 3 (or roughly 736 million) women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime – an alarming figure that remains unchanged for the past decade. According to a 2018 National Public Inquiry into Family Violence almost nine in 10 Samoan women have experienced physical or emotional violence from family members, six out of 10 have experienced intimate partner violence and one in five women have been raped.  “In Samoa, SGBV is a great concern. It is an issue that requires immediate action at the national level,” said Lealaiauloto Liai Iosefa-Siitia, the Executive Director of the Samoa Family Health Association (SFHA). “Samoa needs a holistic approach to reduce the risks of SGBV. All partners should come together and establish a better coordinated and effective way of addressing the issue.”  An IPPF Member Association, SFHA provides reproductive health and family planning services through a permanent clinic in the capital city of Apia, and a mobile unit which visits rural areas and the outer islands to provide educational and contraceptive services.  A data deficit  But according to Iosefa-Siita, the greatest challenge in tackling SGBV in Samoa is a lack of data.  “Data on SGBV is not properly coordinated and disaggregated,” she said. “These challenges may be due to questions of who is responsible for what type of data, who is the national agency responsible, who are the service providers and many more.”  Since 1995, there have been four major studies into the prevalence of SGBV in Samoa. But the length of time between each of these studies makes it difficult to identify trends in reporting violence or the potential impact of new interventions and services.   However, steps are being taken at a policy level. The Government of Samoa recently launched inclusive governance, family safety and gender equality policies and the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development has developed an Interagency Essential Services Guide that helps guide service providers on the elimination of GBV.  SFHA is also developing a Standard of Procedures which incorporates a referral pathway for victims of SGBV at a national level.   “We continue to advocate for sexual and reproductive health rights as one instrumental aspect for the prevention of SGBV at the national level through contribution to national guidelines such as the Interagency Essential Services Guide, the Family Safety Bill by the National Human Rights Institute, the National Policy on Disaster Risk Management and others,” said Iosefa-Siita.  

IPPF considers legal action against UK Government's decision to cut IPPF’s funding

London, Friday 16th July 2021 - The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) has today revealed it has sent a pre-action letter to the Government following the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office's (FCDO) termination of IPPF’s ACCESS project funding, based on the Government’s unlawful decision to cut the foreign aid budget.  The UK's foreign aid spending is enshrined at 0.7% of GNI in the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015. The Government’s cuts, which reduce aid contributions to 0.5% of Gross National Income (GNI) and amount to a staggering £4.5 billion, will have a catastrophic impact on millions of the world's most vulnerable people, especially women and girls who have now been consigned to a bleak and uncertain future.  Having sought legal advice, IPPF believe that the Government's unilateral decision to reduce the percentage of GNI without amending the primary legislation under the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015 is unlawful, making any decision of the FCDO based on the cuts unlawful too. Under the proposed aid reduction, the IPPF is expected to lose £14.2 million in funding over the next three years despite an Accountable Grant Agreement (AGA) with the FCDO to support sexual and reproductive health service delivery until December 2023. Under the AGA, the FCDO was committed to providing up to £21 million for the U.K. Aid Connect ACCESS Consortium's efforts to enhance the sexual and reproductive health rights of some of the world's most marginalised and underserved people, including those living in extreme poverty, those living in humanitarian crises and those affected by HIV and AIDS. The consortium, led by the IPPF, specifically focused on providing support to groups in Lebanon, Mozambique, Nepal and Uganda. The vote taken on Tuesday in the House of Commons was not capable of legally amending the primary legislation,  a necessary step for making the cuts lawful. Unless the Government reverses its position, IPPF will proceed with filing for a judicial review. Dr Alvaro Bermejo, Director-General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, said: "Since IPPF became aware of the Government's plans to slash the U.K.'s aid budget, it has taken every opportunity to demonstrate the unlawfulness of these cuts and the catastrophic impact they will have on millions of women, girls and marginalized people worldwide, and the thousands of lives that will be lost in the process.    "Sadly, the Government has not heeded our warnings, instead choosing to terminate the ACCESS grant. This means IPPF has been forced to send a pre-action letter to the Secretary of State, seeking an urgent review of the decision. We were further disappointed with yesterday’s motion in the House of Commons to introduce long lasting changes without going through due legislative process.   "IPPF has not taken this decision lightly. This action is about fighting the injustice of the Government's ruling on behalf of the women and girls we serve and honouring the intent of IPPF and its member associations." In addition to the decision IPPF is seeking to have reviewed, the Government’s unlawful cuts to the foreign aid budget have had wider effects on IPPF. In total, IPPF could lose up to £72 million in funding over the next three years despite a commitment from the FCDO to support sexual and reproductive health care delivery. The loss of funding for IPPF means massive reductions and the potential closure of the U.K.'s flagship WISH (Women's Integrated Sexual Health) programme. This hugely successful initiative delivers life-saving contraception and sexual and reproductive health services for women and girls in some of the world's poorest and most marginalized communities. If allowed to continue operating until 2023, it would prevent an additional 7.5 million unintended pregnancies, 2.7 million unsafe abortions and 22,000 maternal deaths. Without additional funding, IPPF will be forced to close services in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Cote D'Ivoire, Cameroon, Uganda, Mozambique, Nepal and Lebanon and may be forced to close services in an additional nine countries, withdrawing support for sexual and reproductive health services from approximately 4,500 service delivery points globally. Sadly, it will also mean the loss of over 480 IPPF staff supporting SRH service delivery in the FCDO supported countries. IPPF invites the Secretary of State to reinstate the aid budget and confirm the Government's commitment to the 0.7% aid target as a means of keeping its legally binding promises to millions of people worldwide. Notes to Editors: The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) is a UK based charity committed to providing sexual and reproductive support to the world's most under-served communities. The IPPF operates in 142 countries, relies on volunteers and regularly receives financial support for national governments to support their global work.  Under the FCDO's unlawful reduction of UK foreign aid contributions to 0.5% of Gross National Income, the IPPF is expected to lose £14.2 million earmarked for support to vulnerable communities in Lebanon, Mozambique, Nepal and Uganda. The IPPF’s case against the Government is independently financed and no taxpayer money is being used to fund legal costs.

Gender Equality Forum logo

IPPF announces new commitments to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) at the Generation Equality Forum

The Generation Equality Forum (GEF) is a global multi-stakeholder platform to reignite the worldwide commitment for gender equality, convened by UN Women and the governments of Mexico and France. The Forum kicked off in Mexico City, Mexico, on 29 – 31 March 2021, and culminated in Paris, France, on 30 June – 2 July 2021, with the aim of securing a set of concrete, ambitious, and transformative commitments to achieve irreversible progress towards gender equality; bringing together governments, civil society organizations, young people-led organizations, the private sector and foundations to define and announce ambitious investments and policies on a range of priority areas, from climate change to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), gender-based violence, feminist movements, technology and economic justice.   IPPF is proud to be one of the co-leads of the Action Coalition on Bodily Autonomy & SRHR, which aims to:  Expand access to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) in and out of school  Increase qualitative access to contraception  Empower all people, including adolescents and women, in all their diversity to make autonomous choices about their bodies, sexuality and reproduction  Strengthen girls, women’s and feminist organizations and networks to promote and protect bodily autonomy and SRHR.  IPPF has joined the two collective commitments of this Action Coalition on abortion and CSE.  IPPF’s individual commitment at GEF  By 2026, IPPF commits to work to accelerate universal access to safe abortion care centered on three principles – rights-based, reproductive justice and gender transformative – with a focus on the following strategies:   Expand and improve the provision of abortion care through 102 Member Associations, including quality medical and surgical abortion, person-centered abortion self-care support, and abortion care beyond 12 weeks of gestation through a simplified outpatient model using task-shifting to mid-level providers, including self-managed medical abortion.   Fully integrate abortion care into humanitarian preparedness and response as full realization of SRHR, with all IPPF emergency responses providing abortion care as a standard part of the Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP).  Advocate for the decriminalization of abortion and the removal of coercive policies and legislation on abortion in 25 countries, and advocate to donor governments and agencies to remove restrictions preventing work and dialogue on abortion, including the permanent repeal of the Global Gag Rule.  IPPF is also pleased to announce that it will be working with the Governments of Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands to help realize universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights and CSE.   IPPF’s Director-General, Dr Alvaro Bermejo, said:  “Since Beijing, progress has been made towards gender equality, yet not a single country can claim to have achieved it. It’s simple; women and girls cannot wait any longer to live a life free from discrimination, free from gender-based violence and free from harmful patriarchal gender norms – we must replace rhetoric with meaningful action.   "As co-leaders of the Action Coalition on Bodily Autonomy and SRHR, we are convinced that you cannot achieve gender equality without SRHR, and urge that it be at the center of policies and decision-making processes. IPPF, alongside its partners and Member Associations, will turn our commitments into meaningful action that accelerates our shared goal of achieving gender equality.”  IPPF’s Global Advocacy Director, Anamaria Bejar, added:  “Women and girls cannot afford more broken promises. Now is the time to renew our determination to make the Beijing Platform for Action a reality for every woman and girl in the world, to live with dignity and reach their full potential. That is why IPPF wholeheartedly support the Generation Equality Forum and what it stands for. Together, we can meaningfully work towards gender equality in our lifetime.” 

Graphic which reads "Generation Equality Forum, Paris, 30 June-2 July 2021"

IPPF at the Generation Equality Forum

What is the Generation Equality Forum? The Generation Equality Forum (GEF) is a civil society–centered, global gathering for gender equality, convened by UN Women and co-hosted by the governments of Mexico and France. The Forum kicked off in Mexico City, Mexico, on 29–31 March 2021, and will culminate in Paris, France, on 30 June – 2 July 2021. This Forum aims to promote the full implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action in the framework of the commemoration of its 25th anniversary, which was unanimously adopted by 189 countries around the world.  Why is it important? The GEF presents a great opportunity for different multi-stakeholders to reignite the Beijing agenda and to embrace this global movement, bring the change needed and make concrete and strategic commitments to build back better and to ensure that gender equality is an aspiration for the present generation and a reality for future generations to come. The Generation Equality Action Coalitions are innovative and multi-stakeholder partnerships focused on the most intractable barriers to equality. Their aim is to deliver concrete and transformative change for women and girls around the world in the coming five years that, if implemented and fully funded, can lead to lasting and transformative change and help to ensure that women, girls, and gender diverse people everywhere can fully enjoy their human rights. They will focus on six themes that are critical for achieving gender equality: gender-based violence, economic justice and rights, bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health and rights, feminist action for climate justice, technology and innovation for gender equality, and feminist movements and leadership. What role does IPPF have at GEF? IPPF is co-leader in the Bodily Autonomy & Sexual and Reproductive Health & Rights Action (SRHR) Coalition, where IPPF contributed to four fundamental actions:  1) Expand access to CSE in and out of school;  2) Increase qualitative access to contraception;  3) Empower all people, including adolescents and women, in all their diversity to make autonomous choices about their bodies, sexuality and reproduction; 4) Strengthen girls, women's and feminist organizations and networks to promote and protect bodily autonomy and SRHR.  IPPF's commitments Although important steps were taken, and some progress achieved, the Beijing Platform for Action is far from being implemented. Many obstacles like absence of political will, lack of financial commitment, rigid, restrictive and patriarchal gender social norms and backlash to women's and girls' rights and fundamental freedoms, in particular their participation in social, economic and political life, the right to their bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive rights, discrimination and sexual and gender-based violence have been the reality in every corner of the world. But the paradigm is changing, and different social movements have revitalized the discussions and women and girls are very much in the agenda of governments, civil society organizations, private sector and academia. In Paris, IPPF will commit to accelerate access to safe abortion care centered in three principles- right base, reproductive justice and gender transformative, and to influence change in laws and ensures that abortion is decriminalized and barriers, including to self-managed abortion, are removed. And to collaborate and build a strong, united voice to promote finance comprehensive sexuality education in and out of school, via evidence-based modalities. With our Member Associations at the center, IPPF will present a progressive and aspirational proposal aligned with its organizational vision and that will face great challenges; however, it is well worth it; advancing gender equality with full respect and recognition of all sexual and reproductive rights of girls, adolescents and women is IPPF's ultimate goal. 

A group of teenage girls in Palestine

IPPF hosts G7 SRHR Ministerial Roundtable

IPPF hosted a G7 Ministerial Roundtable entitled Empower Women and Girls, Empower Humanity: Bodily Autonomy and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). The roundtable facilitated a meaningful dialogue on the importance of keeping SRHR commitments that G7 countries have made to the women and girls left behind, ensuring that SRHR and bodily autonomy are central to reaching Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  The roundtable was sponsored by Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office United Kingdom (FCDO) and Global Affairs Canada, with participants from UK, Germany, USA, France, Japan, Canada, Australia, India, and South Africa. Karina Gould, Minister of International Development for the Government of Canada said: “It is more important than ever to ensure that women and girls have control over their bodies, and do not face additional vulnerabilities, discrimination and violation of their rights. We need to see an integrated effort to better enable our health systems to respond to the pandemic while continuing to address the needs of women and their families.”  Keiichi Ono, Assistant Minister and Director-General for Global Issues for the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs added: “COVID-19 has exacerbated the plight of vulnerable people. Reaching the most vulnerable people first is key to realizing universal health coverage and to ensuring an effective gendered response to COVID-19 that includes Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.”    IPPF would like to thank those who contributed to the invigorating and inspirational event, and we look forward to continuing our collective push in ensuring bodily autonomy and SRHR remain central to UHC and the SDGs.

One hand passes a sanitary pad to another
25 May 2021

Period stigma: how it holds back girls and women

We’re sure you know this already, but just in case… sharks won’t attack you if you go swimming on your period, food you touch while menstruating won’t go bad faster, and having sex during your period won’t kill your partner. (These are all actual myths.) While these might seem amusing, myths, misconceptions, and misinformation about periods feed into stigma which can be hugely damaging for many girls, women, and people who menstruate around the world. In part, stigma exacerbates certain cultural beliefs about menstruation. Rather than simply being acknowledged as a natural bodily function, it is considered rude or embarrassing to discuss periods in some communities around the world. While using euphemisms such as "strawberry week" in Austria, "I'm with Chico" in Brazil, and "Granny's stuck in traffic" in South Africa may seem harmless, they reinforce the idea that periods are shameful and something to talk about in code. Holding back women and girls Due to the conversation around menstruation being suppressed, beliefs about people on their periods being unclean are widespread. This often leads to women and girls feeling confined to their homes, being excluded from public spaces, or considered to be bad luck or harmful to others for about a week every month. Devastatingly, this period stigma (along with poverty) has a huge impact on girls' education. For example, across Africa it is estimated that one in 10 girls will miss school when they have their periods, and can miss approximately 10-20% of school days – factors which can lead to them dropping out altogether. This puts them at greater risk of child marriage, and getting pregnant at a younger age, which comes with heightened health risks.  Not receiving a full education and being forced into an early marriage also inevitably usually leads to a reduced capacity to access employment and income generation, a terrible consequence which only serves to hold back women’s life chances. Inadequate bathroom access, both home and away At any given time, approximately 300 million people globally are menstruating. Given that 1 in 4 people do not have an adequate toilet of their own and 11% do not have clean water close to their home, this leaves a significant number of women and girls unable to manage their periods in a hygienic, safe way at home.  The problem is no better outside of the home, as public bathroom facilities (often designed by men) can be unfit for purpose when it comes to women and girls on their periods. Many of us might take for granted the role which public facilities play in going about our day-to-day lives, but not everyone is fortunate enough to experience this ‘luxury’. Without adequately gender-sensitive bathrooms, many people fear being caught out and not able to change their period products (if they even have access to them), meaning they might feel embarrassed about leakages and smells. With this in mind, community planning must recognize the needs of all people in society to be able to access clean, safe facilities.   Period education for all genders  A core challenge in tackling period stigma is that menstrual health education is lacking in many regions of the world. Where it does exist, it often begins later in a young person’s life – sometimes even after girls have begun their first period. The result of not educating girls about menstruation before it starts means that their initial reaction is likely to involve fear, shame and embarrassment. Additionally, poor period education means a lack of knowledge around what menstrual hygiene products are out there. As a result, many women, girls, and people do not have real control over the products they use, and do not have the ability to dispose of or clean these products in an appropriate manner, in line with personal, environmental, cultural, and other considerations.  Some sexual education programmes do not even cover menstrual health, or exclude boys from taking part – losing a key opportunity to tackle period stigma at an early age. For too long, the onus has been placed on women and girls to lead changes on this issue, but men and boys can and should play a role in shifting negative attitudes and secrecy surrounding menstruation.  The consequences of not doing so can be deeply harmful. A troubling misconception, particularly among men, is that the onset of periods signals the start of ‘sexual maturity’, and early marriage can become a consideration. For example in Papua New Guinea, during interviews carried out by IPPF with men about periods, one responded: “When I hear the word menstruation, I know that a girl or woman is bleeding and I know that she is now ready for marriage.” Another said that a girl getting her first period means that “she is grown up and she is able to have sex.” Menstruation without shame, discrimination, or fear So the next time a period myth brings a smile to your face, take a moment to consider the harmful socio-cultural beliefs that go along with it, and the fact that millions of women and girls experience inadequate access to water, sanitation and private hygiene facilities, as well as access to appropriate and affordable period products. Our Member Associations around the world are involved in tackling period stigma every day. From youth groups running open discussions about periods in Mali, to thousands of sanitary pads being distributed across Sri Lanka during the pandemic to those from low income backgrounds, single mothers, and people living with disabilities – our Member Associations are working hard to ensure that all people can experience periods without shame, discrimination, or fear. Which is exactly how it should be. Photo by Annika Gordon on Unsplash

A silhouette of a woman and young child in Fiji
15 March 2021

Gender-based violence is shockingly prevalent – but it is also preventable

By Seri Wendoh, IPPF's Global Lead for Gender and Inclusion One in three women globally experience violence across the course of their lives – that’s around 736 million women who suffer physical, mental and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner or non-partner. This figure has remained steady for the past decade, and it’s a frightening insight into how prevalent and embedded violence against women and girls is in our society. Also, intimate partner violence against women starts alarmingly early: almost a quarter of adolescent girls aged 15-19 (24%) has experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner. These figures are all from a recent WHO report, which is the largest ever study on the prevalence of violence against women, covering the period 2000 to 2008. The report’s findings are unacceptable, and they should be concerning for all of us.  Violence against women harms individual human rights, and it is a global health emergency – one that is embedded in so-called ‘societal and cultural norms’. Violence takes many forms including physical, sexual and psychological violence; to list but a few examples, this can be sexual harassment in the workplace or in public, female genital mutilation (FGM), or early forced marriage and the resulting stigma.  The impact of COVID-19 on GBV Women in low and low-middle income countries are disproportionately affected by violence, and this was before the pandemic began. Globally, it’s been reported that there has been a significant increase in violence against women – who, in many cases, were forced to stay at home with their abuser or lacked access to vital healthcare.  A number of surveys undertaken by our COVID-19 Taskforce team amongst our Member Associations (MAs) reveals the heightened levels of intimate partner and domestic violence for those in lockdown with abusers. The surveys further reveal that the inequality in access to information and education has been exacerbated, and how it has disproportionately affected young people.  Gains on the elimination of practices that harm girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) have regressed – including those on sexual violence, forced marriages, and rates of girls dropping out of school. Young people’s access to contraception and safe abortion care, along with antiretroviral and STI treatments, have been hugely affected. There is also increased concern that FGM is being practiced behind the veil of lockdowns, curfews and quarantine. Further, whilst many of our MAs turned to the digitalization of service provision – from online CSE to counselling – digital inequality (i.e. lack of access to phones, computers or the internet) means that adolescent girls in low and low-middle income countries miss out on these health initiatives. We can almost certainly say that women and girls will be most impacted by COVID-19 – undoing years of progress made to advance their rights. They will be left behind if we don’t urgently respond to their needs. We know that women who are subjected to violence are more likely to use health services than those who are not, even if they do not explicitly disclose it to their healthcare provider. Healthcare providers are uniquely positioned to provide first-line support to women affected by violence. This is why it is critical to invest in training frontline staff to provide effective, women-centered services, including referral to specialized services. Women affected by violence have a right to the best possible healthcare.  Violence against women is preventable As the Global Lead for Gender and Inclusion at IPPF, I know violence against women is preventable. The work our incredible MAs do on the ground gives me hope that we can one day see the end of violence against women and girls. In Malawi, our the Family Planning Association of Malawi is doing incredible work on preventing child marriage through community watch groups, made up of community leaders and social workers. Malawi has some of the highest rates of early forced marriage – where it’s estimated that 47% of girls are married by the age of 18. In Palestine, the Palestinian Family Planning and Protection Association runs sexual violence awareness workshops and is committed to working with local religious leaders and other partners to inform the public on their sexual health and rights.  In India, our MA works to empower women in prisons in preparation for life on the outside. Research undertaken in Mexico by MEXFAM has shown that when teachers are trained in comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), there is an increased understanding among students of the need to reduce violence. And in Pakistan, our MA continues to work on prevention of violence in the Swat Valley and many other areas. These are just some examples of the incredible, life-changing work our MAs deliver.  For this work to continue and for gender equality to be finally realized, we call upon policy makers, donors and other key decision-makers to remain committed to funding sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights, to support specialized training for health providers, and to take a multi-sectoral approach in dealing with violence against women and girls, and to invest in comprehensive sexuality education.  Now more than ever, the commitment to women and girls needs to be unwavering – their lives depend on it. 

Fatoumata Yehiya Maiga

"The movement helps girls to know their rights and their bodies"

My name is Fatoumata Yehiya Maiga. I’m 23-years-old, and I’m an IT specialist. I joined the Youth Action Movement at the end of 2018. The head of the movement in Mali is a friend of mine, and I met her before I knew she was the president. She invited me to their events and over time persuaded me to join. I watched them raising awareness about sexual and reproductive health, using sketches and speeches. I learnt a lot. Overcoming taboos I went home and talked about what I had seen and learnt with my family. In Africa, and even more so in the village where I come from in Gao, northern Mali, people don’t talk about these things. I wanted to take my sisters to the events, but every time I spoke about them my relatives would just say it was to teach girls to have sex, and that it’s taboo. That’s not what I believe. I think the movement helps girls, most of all, to know their sexual rights, their bodies, what to do and what not to do to stay healthy and safe. They don’t understand this concept. My family would say it was just a smokescreen to convince girls to get involved in something dirty.  I have had to tell my younger cousins about their periods, for example, when they came from the village to live in the city. One of my cousins was so scared, and told me she was bleeding from her vagina and didn’t know why. We talk about managing periods in the Youth Action Movement, as well as how to manage cramps and feel better. The devastating impact of FGM But there was a much more important reason for me to join the movement. My parents are educated, so me and my sisters were never cut. I learned about female genital mutilation at a conference I attended in 2016. I didn’t know that there were different types of severity and ways that girls could be cut. I hadn’t understood quite how dangerous this practice is. Then, two years ago, I lost my friend Aïssata. She got married young, at 17. She struggled to conceive until she was 23. The day she gave birth, there were complications and she died. The doctors said that the excision was botched and that’s what killed her. From that day on, I decided I needed to teach all the girls in my community about how harmful this practice is for their health. I was so horrified by the way she died. Normally, girls in Mali are cut when they are three or four years old, though for some it’s done at birth. When they are older and get pregnant, I know they face the same challenges as every woman does giving birth, but they also live with the dangerous consequences of this unhealthy practice.  The importance of talking openly  The problem lies with the families. I want us, as a movement, to talk with the parents and explain to them how they can contribute to their children’s sexual health. I wish it were no longer a taboo between parents and their girls. But if we talk in such direct terms, they only see disobedience, and say that we are encouraging promiscuity. We need to talk to teenagers because they are already parents in many cases. They are the ones who decide to go through with cutting their daughters, or not. A lot of Mali is hard to reach though. We need travelling groups to go to those isolated rural areas and talk to people about sexual health. Pregnancy is the girl’s decision, and girls have a right to be healthy, and to choose their future.

The American flag with stars and stripes

Statement on the first anniversary of the rescindment of the Global Gag Rule

28 January 2022 heralds one year since President Biden rescinded the harmful Global Gag Rule (GGR). Otherwise known as the Mexico City Policy, its expansion in 2017 under Trump affected 12 billion dollars of funding, impacting thousands of life-saving healthcare services worldwide – especially across low-income countries. But while rescindment is a positive first step, the long-term harm of the Global Gag Rule lingers on. For IPPF, 53 healthcare projects in 32 countries were hit, with some Member Associations losing up to 60% of their funding. Programmes affected include HIV prevention and care, maternal health and nutrition, STI services, gender-based violence prevention, and services for vulnerable children. And although we have begun to re-establish long-standing partnerships, it takes time for funding to flow and to re-open closed healthcare clinics and community services – with some lost forever. In the meantime, there are women and girls who desperately need healthcare that have nowhere to turn. But in February, the US Congress has an opportunity to change the sexual and reproductive health landscape forever through a final negotiated funding bill that includes a permanent end to the deadly Global Gag Rule. As we celebrate one year of rescindment, we know the work is not done yet, but we are hopeful for the futures of millions of women and girls worldwide. We urge the US Congress to permanently repeal the Global Gag Rule to fully eradicate the lasting impact of the Mexico City Policy that has harmed women and girls around the world for 40 years.   Dr Alvaro Bermejo, Director-General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, said: "Five years ago, Trump expanded the Global Gag Rule, a devastating neo-colonialist policy that forbids US aid to any organization that supports access to safe abortion care, disproportionately affecting women and girls in low-income countries. Today we mark one year since President Biden rescinded it, but the long-term harm and impacts don't simply go away.  "The Gag Rule is a callously designed mechanism set up to deny women and girls the right to decide what happens to their bodies. Its implementation doesn't just destroy life-saving abortion services but erodes access to other sexual and reproductive healthcare, including contraception, leading ultimately to increases in unintended pregnancy and forcing many to turn to unsafe and dangerous abortion methods.   "While rescindment is a positive first step, the looming threat of reinstatement under future anti-rights administrations undermines the sustainability of global sexual health programs and the pace of progress. After 40 long years, the time to act is now – we urge the US Congress to end this political game and stand up for the futures of millions of at-risk women and girls by permanently repealing the Global Gag Rule.  "By leaving a legacy that gives hope and stability to the sexual and reproductive health of people worldwide, the US will once again be a champion, leader, and innovator of human rights for all." For media inquiries please contact [email protected] 

A woman with her hand in front of her face. Written on her hand is "STOP"
10 December 2021

16 days, 16 ways: How we can help end violence against women and girls

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) kicked off on November 25 – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends today 10 December – Human Rights Day. Gender-based violence refers to harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender and is rooted in gender inequality, the abuse of power and harmful norms. Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is a human rights violation and a public health issue. It can include physical, sexual, economic, and psychological violence, as well as threats, coercion, child and early forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and so-called ‘honour killings. Sadly, it is estimated that one in three women (35%) of women worldwide will experience sexual or physical violence in their lifetime. This figure has remained largely unchanged for the last decade. Violence against women and girls also disproportionately affects low-income countries. To mark the 16 Days campaign, here are 16 ways to help end violence against women and girls. 1. Listen to survivors and believe them It takes a lot of courage to share experiences of gender-based and sexual violence, and knowing that their experiences are heard can aid healing and encourage more survivors to speak out. 2. Increase the visibility of young women and girls in discussions concerning their sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights All conversations leading to policy change should be led by and involve survivors. A ‘survivor-centred’ respectful approach to sexual and gender-based discussions can encourage other survivors to come forward without fear of stigma. 3. Stand up against the normalization of sexual violence in all its forms Rape culture is the social environment that allows sexual violence to be normalized and justified. Acknowledging the normalization of sexual violence is the first step to dismantling it, and educating men and boys on positive masculinity, respectful relationships, and consent are just some ways to disrupt it. Leaders respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights obligations to gender equality can help too. 4. Call for adequate support services Many women and girls lack access to the most basic free essential services for their safety, protection and recovery, such as emergency helplines, safe accommodation, proper police and justice responses, sexual and reproductive health care and psycho-social counselling. Where these services exist, they are underfunded and understaffed. Governments must provide free support for survivors of gender-based violence, including comprehensive training for health providers. Individuals can support campaigns that demand adequate funding for support services. 5. Comprehensive sexuality education Comprehensive sexuality education is vital to teach young people about bodily autonomy, their relationships with each other and to help them understand that freely given consent is mandatory every time. Equipping young people with knowledge about their rights and healthy and safe relationships has a long-term positive effect on their health and well-being. 6. Educate young people but also listen to them Education is essential, but listening to young people’s experiences is also crucial to empowering the next generation. If young people feel heard, they are more likely to want to instigate change. 7. Data is key – utilize it One in three women and girls will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, and learning the statistics means you can share the right information when needed. Collecting and utilising relevant data is also vital for governments to implement successful prevention measures and provide survivors with the right support, especially when reaching marginalised and underserved women. Legislations and policies should also cover comprehensive definitions of all forms of sexual gender-based violence. 8. Take time to educate yourself on gender-based issues Learn the signs of gender-based violence and abuse and how to help someone in need. There is support for survivors of gender-based violence if you know where to look, and action today could help save someone’s life tomorrow. 9. Challenge gender norms that lead to gender inequality Harmful gender norms can lead to gender inequality and, in turn, higher rates of gender-based violence. For example, gender norms can keep girls out of education and higher paid work, limiting their independence, increasing their financial dependence on men and making it difficult to leave violent situations. Gender norms can also leave the voices and experiences of girls undervalued and ignored. By challenging and changing harmful social norms, we can increase gender equality and reduce gender-based violence. 10. Hold yourself and other people accountable Accountability means taking responsibility for your actions and knowing that your actions can directly affect others. Challenge your peers to reflect on their behaviour and speak up when someone crosses the line. 11. Support each other and condemn violence against women  Together we stand divided we fall. Supporting women and those working to end gender-based violence is essential to achieving gender equality and ending violence against women; this includes government’s and leaders condemning all acts of violence and discrimination against women. Individuals can support a survivor, share a post on social media or volunteer on a helpline. By supporting each other, we can help create a safer environment for everyone. 12. Donate to and fund women’s rights organizations The COVID-19 pandemic has left many women and girls trapped in closed environments with their abusers. Even a small amount to an organization working to combat gender-based violence can make a difference, especially when so many organizations are struggling with reduced funding but increased demand for services. Donating toiletries, sanitary products, clothes, bedding and toys to a local women’s refuge or support service for women and their children who have escaped domestic violence situations can help too. When people and governments recognise women’s rights organizations as expert partners in the fight to end violence against women, everyone benefits. 13. Use social media Using social media platforms to start a conversation and show solidarity with survivors of gender-based violence is just a small act that can create change in communities. 14. Share success stories, positive role models and solutions that work When people see positive role models and solutions, they feel more empowered to help make a difference too. Positive and diverse representation is also important.  15. Protect women and girls in digital spaces Gaps in criminal laws mean that misogyny is rife in digital spaces, with women and girls subject to online harassment, cyber-flashing, revenge porn and other forms of digital gender-based violence. Laws must be designed to protect women, with proper content moderation systems in place. 16. Understand that it takes everyone to make a change Any successful effort to end violence against women must involve everyone. This includes governments and leaders, and people who commit violence or tacitly condone it. We can’t end violence against women alone.

A healthcare worker
26 November 2021

Samoa: A holistic approach to ending sexual and gender-based violence

With a tiny population of just under 200,000 people, data shows that people in the Polynesian Island nation of Samoa on average enjoy a higher quality of life than other countries in the Pacific. And in July 2021, Samoa elected its first female Prime Minister, Fiama Naomi Mata’afa, which generated hope and excitement for more progress for women and girls. But the Prime Minister has her work cut out for her; during the country’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights council in November, the need to address gender-based violence was a recurring issue.   "There is a significant problem with violence towards several different vulnerable groups in Samoa, particularly people of sexual and gender minorities, people with disabilities, women and girls, and children," said Thalia Kehoe Rowden, a representative of the Initiative.   Alarming rates of SGBV   Like nearly every other country around the world, the Pacific Islands are prone to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) – a critical human rights issue that pervades many aspects of society. Global estimates published this year by the World Health Organization indicate that about 1 in 3 (or roughly 736 million) women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime – an alarming figure that remains unchanged for the past decade. According to a 2018 National Public Inquiry into Family Violence almost nine in 10 Samoan women have experienced physical or emotional violence from family members, six out of 10 have experienced intimate partner violence and one in five women have been raped.  “In Samoa, SGBV is a great concern. It is an issue that requires immediate action at the national level,” said Lealaiauloto Liai Iosefa-Siitia, the Executive Director of the Samoa Family Health Association (SFHA). “Samoa needs a holistic approach to reduce the risks of SGBV. All partners should come together and establish a better coordinated and effective way of addressing the issue.”  An IPPF Member Association, SFHA provides reproductive health and family planning services through a permanent clinic in the capital city of Apia, and a mobile unit which visits rural areas and the outer islands to provide educational and contraceptive services.  A data deficit  But according to Iosefa-Siita, the greatest challenge in tackling SGBV in Samoa is a lack of data.  “Data on SGBV is not properly coordinated and disaggregated,” she said. “These challenges may be due to questions of who is responsible for what type of data, who is the national agency responsible, who are the service providers and many more.”  Since 1995, there have been four major studies into the prevalence of SGBV in Samoa. But the length of time between each of these studies makes it difficult to identify trends in reporting violence or the potential impact of new interventions and services.   However, steps are being taken at a policy level. The Government of Samoa recently launched inclusive governance, family safety and gender equality policies and the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development has developed an Interagency Essential Services Guide that helps guide service providers on the elimination of GBV.  SFHA is also developing a Standard of Procedures which incorporates a referral pathway for victims of SGBV at a national level.   “We continue to advocate for sexual and reproductive health rights as one instrumental aspect for the prevention of SGBV at the national level through contribution to national guidelines such as the Interagency Essential Services Guide, the Family Safety Bill by the National Human Rights Institute, the National Policy on Disaster Risk Management and others,” said Iosefa-Siita.  

IPPF considers legal action against UK Government's decision to cut IPPF’s funding

London, Friday 16th July 2021 - The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) has today revealed it has sent a pre-action letter to the Government following the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office's (FCDO) termination of IPPF’s ACCESS project funding, based on the Government’s unlawful decision to cut the foreign aid budget.  The UK's foreign aid spending is enshrined at 0.7% of GNI in the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015. The Government’s cuts, which reduce aid contributions to 0.5% of Gross National Income (GNI) and amount to a staggering £4.5 billion, will have a catastrophic impact on millions of the world's most vulnerable people, especially women and girls who have now been consigned to a bleak and uncertain future.  Having sought legal advice, IPPF believe that the Government's unilateral decision to reduce the percentage of GNI without amending the primary legislation under the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015 is unlawful, making any decision of the FCDO based on the cuts unlawful too. Under the proposed aid reduction, the IPPF is expected to lose £14.2 million in funding over the next three years despite an Accountable Grant Agreement (AGA) with the FCDO to support sexual and reproductive health service delivery until December 2023. Under the AGA, the FCDO was committed to providing up to £21 million for the U.K. Aid Connect ACCESS Consortium's efforts to enhance the sexual and reproductive health rights of some of the world's most marginalised and underserved people, including those living in extreme poverty, those living in humanitarian crises and those affected by HIV and AIDS. The consortium, led by the IPPF, specifically focused on providing support to groups in Lebanon, Mozambique, Nepal and Uganda. The vote taken on Tuesday in the House of Commons was not capable of legally amending the primary legislation,  a necessary step for making the cuts lawful. Unless the Government reverses its position, IPPF will proceed with filing for a judicial review. Dr Alvaro Bermejo, Director-General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, said: "Since IPPF became aware of the Government's plans to slash the U.K.'s aid budget, it has taken every opportunity to demonstrate the unlawfulness of these cuts and the catastrophic impact they will have on millions of women, girls and marginalized people worldwide, and the thousands of lives that will be lost in the process.    "Sadly, the Government has not heeded our warnings, instead choosing to terminate the ACCESS grant. This means IPPF has been forced to send a pre-action letter to the Secretary of State, seeking an urgent review of the decision. We were further disappointed with yesterday’s motion in the House of Commons to introduce long lasting changes without going through due legislative process.   "IPPF has not taken this decision lightly. This action is about fighting the injustice of the Government's ruling on behalf of the women and girls we serve and honouring the intent of IPPF and its member associations." In addition to the decision IPPF is seeking to have reviewed, the Government’s unlawful cuts to the foreign aid budget have had wider effects on IPPF. In total, IPPF could lose up to £72 million in funding over the next three years despite a commitment from the FCDO to support sexual and reproductive health care delivery. The loss of funding for IPPF means massive reductions and the potential closure of the U.K.'s flagship WISH (Women's Integrated Sexual Health) programme. This hugely successful initiative delivers life-saving contraception and sexual and reproductive health services for women and girls in some of the world's poorest and most marginalized communities. If allowed to continue operating until 2023, it would prevent an additional 7.5 million unintended pregnancies, 2.7 million unsafe abortions and 22,000 maternal deaths. Without additional funding, IPPF will be forced to close services in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Cote D'Ivoire, Cameroon, Uganda, Mozambique, Nepal and Lebanon and may be forced to close services in an additional nine countries, withdrawing support for sexual and reproductive health services from approximately 4,500 service delivery points globally. Sadly, it will also mean the loss of over 480 IPPF staff supporting SRH service delivery in the FCDO supported countries. IPPF invites the Secretary of State to reinstate the aid budget and confirm the Government's commitment to the 0.7% aid target as a means of keeping its legally binding promises to millions of people worldwide. Notes to Editors: The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) is a UK based charity committed to providing sexual and reproductive support to the world's most under-served communities. The IPPF operates in 142 countries, relies on volunteers and regularly receives financial support for national governments to support their global work.  Under the FCDO's unlawful reduction of UK foreign aid contributions to 0.5% of Gross National Income, the IPPF is expected to lose £14.2 million earmarked for support to vulnerable communities in Lebanon, Mozambique, Nepal and Uganda. The IPPF’s case against the Government is independently financed and no taxpayer money is being used to fund legal costs.

Gender Equality Forum logo

IPPF announces new commitments to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) at the Generation Equality Forum

The Generation Equality Forum (GEF) is a global multi-stakeholder platform to reignite the worldwide commitment for gender equality, convened by UN Women and the governments of Mexico and France. The Forum kicked off in Mexico City, Mexico, on 29 – 31 March 2021, and culminated in Paris, France, on 30 June – 2 July 2021, with the aim of securing a set of concrete, ambitious, and transformative commitments to achieve irreversible progress towards gender equality; bringing together governments, civil society organizations, young people-led organizations, the private sector and foundations to define and announce ambitious investments and policies on a range of priority areas, from climate change to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), gender-based violence, feminist movements, technology and economic justice.   IPPF is proud to be one of the co-leads of the Action Coalition on Bodily Autonomy & SRHR, which aims to:  Expand access to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) in and out of school  Increase qualitative access to contraception  Empower all people, including adolescents and women, in all their diversity to make autonomous choices about their bodies, sexuality and reproduction  Strengthen girls, women’s and feminist organizations and networks to promote and protect bodily autonomy and SRHR.  IPPF has joined the two collective commitments of this Action Coalition on abortion and CSE.  IPPF’s individual commitment at GEF  By 2026, IPPF commits to work to accelerate universal access to safe abortion care centered on three principles – rights-based, reproductive justice and gender transformative – with a focus on the following strategies:   Expand and improve the provision of abortion care through 102 Member Associations, including quality medical and surgical abortion, person-centered abortion self-care support, and abortion care beyond 12 weeks of gestation through a simplified outpatient model using task-shifting to mid-level providers, including self-managed medical abortion.   Fully integrate abortion care into humanitarian preparedness and response as full realization of SRHR, with all IPPF emergency responses providing abortion care as a standard part of the Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP).  Advocate for the decriminalization of abortion and the removal of coercive policies and legislation on abortion in 25 countries, and advocate to donor governments and agencies to remove restrictions preventing work and dialogue on abortion, including the permanent repeal of the Global Gag Rule.  IPPF is also pleased to announce that it will be working with the Governments of Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands to help realize universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights and CSE.   IPPF’s Director-General, Dr Alvaro Bermejo, said:  “Since Beijing, progress has been made towards gender equality, yet not a single country can claim to have achieved it. It’s simple; women and girls cannot wait any longer to live a life free from discrimination, free from gender-based violence and free from harmful patriarchal gender norms – we must replace rhetoric with meaningful action.   "As co-leaders of the Action Coalition on Bodily Autonomy and SRHR, we are convinced that you cannot achieve gender equality without SRHR, and urge that it be at the center of policies and decision-making processes. IPPF, alongside its partners and Member Associations, will turn our commitments into meaningful action that accelerates our shared goal of achieving gender equality.”  IPPF’s Global Advocacy Director, Anamaria Bejar, added:  “Women and girls cannot afford more broken promises. Now is the time to renew our determination to make the Beijing Platform for Action a reality for every woman and girl in the world, to live with dignity and reach their full potential. That is why IPPF wholeheartedly support the Generation Equality Forum and what it stands for. Together, we can meaningfully work towards gender equality in our lifetime.” 

Graphic which reads "Generation Equality Forum, Paris, 30 June-2 July 2021"

IPPF at the Generation Equality Forum

What is the Generation Equality Forum? The Generation Equality Forum (GEF) is a civil society–centered, global gathering for gender equality, convened by UN Women and co-hosted by the governments of Mexico and France. The Forum kicked off in Mexico City, Mexico, on 29–31 March 2021, and will culminate in Paris, France, on 30 June – 2 July 2021. This Forum aims to promote the full implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action in the framework of the commemoration of its 25th anniversary, which was unanimously adopted by 189 countries around the world.  Why is it important? The GEF presents a great opportunity for different multi-stakeholders to reignite the Beijing agenda and to embrace this global movement, bring the change needed and make concrete and strategic commitments to build back better and to ensure that gender equality is an aspiration for the present generation and a reality for future generations to come. The Generation Equality Action Coalitions are innovative and multi-stakeholder partnerships focused on the most intractable barriers to equality. Their aim is to deliver concrete and transformative change for women and girls around the world in the coming five years that, if implemented and fully funded, can lead to lasting and transformative change and help to ensure that women, girls, and gender diverse people everywhere can fully enjoy their human rights. They will focus on six themes that are critical for achieving gender equality: gender-based violence, economic justice and rights, bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health and rights, feminist action for climate justice, technology and innovation for gender equality, and feminist movements and leadership. What role does IPPF have at GEF? IPPF is co-leader in the Bodily Autonomy & Sexual and Reproductive Health & Rights Action (SRHR) Coalition, where IPPF contributed to four fundamental actions:  1) Expand access to CSE in and out of school;  2) Increase qualitative access to contraception;  3) Empower all people, including adolescents and women, in all their diversity to make autonomous choices about their bodies, sexuality and reproduction; 4) Strengthen girls, women's and feminist organizations and networks to promote and protect bodily autonomy and SRHR.  IPPF's commitments Although important steps were taken, and some progress achieved, the Beijing Platform for Action is far from being implemented. Many obstacles like absence of political will, lack of financial commitment, rigid, restrictive and patriarchal gender social norms and backlash to women's and girls' rights and fundamental freedoms, in particular their participation in social, economic and political life, the right to their bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive rights, discrimination and sexual and gender-based violence have been the reality in every corner of the world. But the paradigm is changing, and different social movements have revitalized the discussions and women and girls are very much in the agenda of governments, civil society organizations, private sector and academia. In Paris, IPPF will commit to accelerate access to safe abortion care centered in three principles- right base, reproductive justice and gender transformative, and to influence change in laws and ensures that abortion is decriminalized and barriers, including to self-managed abortion, are removed. And to collaborate and build a strong, united voice to promote finance comprehensive sexuality education in and out of school, via evidence-based modalities. With our Member Associations at the center, IPPF will present a progressive and aspirational proposal aligned with its organizational vision and that will face great challenges; however, it is well worth it; advancing gender equality with full respect and recognition of all sexual and reproductive rights of girls, adolescents and women is IPPF's ultimate goal. 

A group of teenage girls in Palestine

IPPF hosts G7 SRHR Ministerial Roundtable

IPPF hosted a G7 Ministerial Roundtable entitled Empower Women and Girls, Empower Humanity: Bodily Autonomy and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). The roundtable facilitated a meaningful dialogue on the importance of keeping SRHR commitments that G7 countries have made to the women and girls left behind, ensuring that SRHR and bodily autonomy are central to reaching Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  The roundtable was sponsored by Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office United Kingdom (FCDO) and Global Affairs Canada, with participants from UK, Germany, USA, France, Japan, Canada, Australia, India, and South Africa. Karina Gould, Minister of International Development for the Government of Canada said: “It is more important than ever to ensure that women and girls have control over their bodies, and do not face additional vulnerabilities, discrimination and violation of their rights. We need to see an integrated effort to better enable our health systems to respond to the pandemic while continuing to address the needs of women and their families.”  Keiichi Ono, Assistant Minister and Director-General for Global Issues for the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs added: “COVID-19 has exacerbated the plight of vulnerable people. Reaching the most vulnerable people first is key to realizing universal health coverage and to ensuring an effective gendered response to COVID-19 that includes Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.”    IPPF would like to thank those who contributed to the invigorating and inspirational event, and we look forward to continuing our collective push in ensuring bodily autonomy and SRHR remain central to UHC and the SDGs.

One hand passes a sanitary pad to another
25 May 2021

Period stigma: how it holds back girls and women

We’re sure you know this already, but just in case… sharks won’t attack you if you go swimming on your period, food you touch while menstruating won’t go bad faster, and having sex during your period won’t kill your partner. (These are all actual myths.) While these might seem amusing, myths, misconceptions, and misinformation about periods feed into stigma which can be hugely damaging for many girls, women, and people who menstruate around the world. In part, stigma exacerbates certain cultural beliefs about menstruation. Rather than simply being acknowledged as a natural bodily function, it is considered rude or embarrassing to discuss periods in some communities around the world. While using euphemisms such as "strawberry week" in Austria, "I'm with Chico" in Brazil, and "Granny's stuck in traffic" in South Africa may seem harmless, they reinforce the idea that periods are shameful and something to talk about in code. Holding back women and girls Due to the conversation around menstruation being suppressed, beliefs about people on their periods being unclean are widespread. This often leads to women and girls feeling confined to their homes, being excluded from public spaces, or considered to be bad luck or harmful to others for about a week every month. Devastatingly, this period stigma (along with poverty) has a huge impact on girls' education. For example, across Africa it is estimated that one in 10 girls will miss school when they have their periods, and can miss approximately 10-20% of school days – factors which can lead to them dropping out altogether. This puts them at greater risk of child marriage, and getting pregnant at a younger age, which comes with heightened health risks.  Not receiving a full education and being forced into an early marriage also inevitably usually leads to a reduced capacity to access employment and income generation, a terrible consequence which only serves to hold back women’s life chances. Inadequate bathroom access, both home and away At any given time, approximately 300 million people globally are menstruating. Given that 1 in 4 people do not have an adequate toilet of their own and 11% do not have clean water close to their home, this leaves a significant number of women and girls unable to manage their periods in a hygienic, safe way at home.  The problem is no better outside of the home, as public bathroom facilities (often designed by men) can be unfit for purpose when it comes to women and girls on their periods. Many of us might take for granted the role which public facilities play in going about our day-to-day lives, but not everyone is fortunate enough to experience this ‘luxury’. Without adequately gender-sensitive bathrooms, many people fear being caught out and not able to change their period products (if they even have access to them), meaning they might feel embarrassed about leakages and smells. With this in mind, community planning must recognize the needs of all people in society to be able to access clean, safe facilities.   Period education for all genders  A core challenge in tackling period stigma is that menstrual health education is lacking in many regions of the world. Where it does exist, it often begins later in a young person’s life – sometimes even after girls have begun their first period. The result of not educating girls about menstruation before it starts means that their initial reaction is likely to involve fear, shame and embarrassment. Additionally, poor period education means a lack of knowledge around what menstrual hygiene products are out there. As a result, many women, girls, and people do not have real control over the products they use, and do not have the ability to dispose of or clean these products in an appropriate manner, in line with personal, environmental, cultural, and other considerations.  Some sexual education programmes do not even cover menstrual health, or exclude boys from taking part – losing a key opportunity to tackle period stigma at an early age. For too long, the onus has been placed on women and girls to lead changes on this issue, but men and boys can and should play a role in shifting negative attitudes and secrecy surrounding menstruation.  The consequences of not doing so can be deeply harmful. A troubling misconception, particularly among men, is that the onset of periods signals the start of ‘sexual maturity’, and early marriage can become a consideration. For example in Papua New Guinea, during interviews carried out by IPPF with men about periods, one responded: “When I hear the word menstruation, I know that a girl or woman is bleeding and I know that she is now ready for marriage.” Another said that a girl getting her first period means that “she is grown up and she is able to have sex.” Menstruation without shame, discrimination, or fear So the next time a period myth brings a smile to your face, take a moment to consider the harmful socio-cultural beliefs that go along with it, and the fact that millions of women and girls experience inadequate access to water, sanitation and private hygiene facilities, as well as access to appropriate and affordable period products. Our Member Associations around the world are involved in tackling period stigma every day. From youth groups running open discussions about periods in Mali, to thousands of sanitary pads being distributed across Sri Lanka during the pandemic to those from low income backgrounds, single mothers, and people living with disabilities – our Member Associations are working hard to ensure that all people can experience periods without shame, discrimination, or fear. Which is exactly how it should be. Photo by Annika Gordon on Unsplash

A silhouette of a woman and young child in Fiji
15 March 2021

Gender-based violence is shockingly prevalent – but it is also preventable

By Seri Wendoh, IPPF's Global Lead for Gender and Inclusion One in three women globally experience violence across the course of their lives – that’s around 736 million women who suffer physical, mental and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner or non-partner. This figure has remained steady for the past decade, and it’s a frightening insight into how prevalent and embedded violence against women and girls is in our society. Also, intimate partner violence against women starts alarmingly early: almost a quarter of adolescent girls aged 15-19 (24%) has experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner. These figures are all from a recent WHO report, which is the largest ever study on the prevalence of violence against women, covering the period 2000 to 2008. The report’s findings are unacceptable, and they should be concerning for all of us.  Violence against women harms individual human rights, and it is a global health emergency – one that is embedded in so-called ‘societal and cultural norms’. Violence takes many forms including physical, sexual and psychological violence; to list but a few examples, this can be sexual harassment in the workplace or in public, female genital mutilation (FGM), or early forced marriage and the resulting stigma.  The impact of COVID-19 on GBV Women in low and low-middle income countries are disproportionately affected by violence, and this was before the pandemic began. Globally, it’s been reported that there has been a significant increase in violence against women – who, in many cases, were forced to stay at home with their abuser or lacked access to vital healthcare.  A number of surveys undertaken by our COVID-19 Taskforce team amongst our Member Associations (MAs) reveals the heightened levels of intimate partner and domestic violence for those in lockdown with abusers. The surveys further reveal that the inequality in access to information and education has been exacerbated, and how it has disproportionately affected young people.  Gains on the elimination of practices that harm girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) have regressed – including those on sexual violence, forced marriages, and rates of girls dropping out of school. Young people’s access to contraception and safe abortion care, along with antiretroviral and STI treatments, have been hugely affected. There is also increased concern that FGM is being practiced behind the veil of lockdowns, curfews and quarantine. Further, whilst many of our MAs turned to the digitalization of service provision – from online CSE to counselling – digital inequality (i.e. lack of access to phones, computers or the internet) means that adolescent girls in low and low-middle income countries miss out on these health initiatives. We can almost certainly say that women and girls will be most impacted by COVID-19 – undoing years of progress made to advance their rights. They will be left behind if we don’t urgently respond to their needs. We know that women who are subjected to violence are more likely to use health services than those who are not, even if they do not explicitly disclose it to their healthcare provider. Healthcare providers are uniquely positioned to provide first-line support to women affected by violence. This is why it is critical to invest in training frontline staff to provide effective, women-centered services, including referral to specialized services. Women affected by violence have a right to the best possible healthcare.  Violence against women is preventable As the Global Lead for Gender and Inclusion at IPPF, I know violence against women is preventable. The work our incredible MAs do on the ground gives me hope that we can one day see the end of violence against women and girls. In Malawi, our the Family Planning Association of Malawi is doing incredible work on preventing child marriage through community watch groups, made up of community leaders and social workers. Malawi has some of the highest rates of early forced marriage – where it’s estimated that 47% of girls are married by the age of 18. In Palestine, the Palestinian Family Planning and Protection Association runs sexual violence awareness workshops and is committed to working with local religious leaders and other partners to inform the public on their sexual health and rights.  In India, our MA works to empower women in prisons in preparation for life on the outside. Research undertaken in Mexico by MEXFAM has shown that when teachers are trained in comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), there is an increased understanding among students of the need to reduce violence. And in Pakistan, our MA continues to work on prevention of violence in the Swat Valley and many other areas. These are just some examples of the incredible, life-changing work our MAs deliver.  For this work to continue and for gender equality to be finally realized, we call upon policy makers, donors and other key decision-makers to remain committed to funding sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights, to support specialized training for health providers, and to take a multi-sectoral approach in dealing with violence against women and girls, and to invest in comprehensive sexuality education.  Now more than ever, the commitment to women and girls needs to be unwavering – their lives depend on it. 

Fatoumata Yehiya Maiga

"The movement helps girls to know their rights and their bodies"

My name is Fatoumata Yehiya Maiga. I’m 23-years-old, and I’m an IT specialist. I joined the Youth Action Movement at the end of 2018. The head of the movement in Mali is a friend of mine, and I met her before I knew she was the president. She invited me to their events and over time persuaded me to join. I watched them raising awareness about sexual and reproductive health, using sketches and speeches. I learnt a lot. Overcoming taboos I went home and talked about what I had seen and learnt with my family. In Africa, and even more so in the village where I come from in Gao, northern Mali, people don’t talk about these things. I wanted to take my sisters to the events, but every time I spoke about them my relatives would just say it was to teach girls to have sex, and that it’s taboo. That’s not what I believe. I think the movement helps girls, most of all, to know their sexual rights, their bodies, what to do and what not to do to stay healthy and safe. They don’t understand this concept. My family would say it was just a smokescreen to convince girls to get involved in something dirty.  I have had to tell my younger cousins about their periods, for example, when they came from the village to live in the city. One of my cousins was so scared, and told me she was bleeding from her vagina and didn’t know why. We talk about managing periods in the Youth Action Movement, as well as how to manage cramps and feel better. The devastating impact of FGM But there was a much more important reason for me to join the movement. My parents are educated, so me and my sisters were never cut. I learned about female genital mutilation at a conference I attended in 2016. I didn’t know that there were different types of severity and ways that girls could be cut. I hadn’t understood quite how dangerous this practice is. Then, two years ago, I lost my friend Aïssata. She got married young, at 17. She struggled to conceive until she was 23. The day she gave birth, there were complications and she died. The doctors said that the excision was botched and that’s what killed her. From that day on, I decided I needed to teach all the girls in my community about how harmful this practice is for their health. I was so horrified by the way she died. Normally, girls in Mali are cut when they are three or four years old, though for some it’s done at birth. When they are older and get pregnant, I know they face the same challenges as every woman does giving birth, but they also live with the dangerous consequences of this unhealthy practice.  The importance of talking openly  The problem lies with the families. I want us, as a movement, to talk with the parents and explain to them how they can contribute to their children’s sexual health. I wish it were no longer a taboo between parents and their girls. But if we talk in such direct terms, they only see disobedience, and say that we are encouraging promiscuity. We need to talk to teenagers because they are already parents in many cases. They are the ones who decide to go through with cutting their daughters, or not. A lot of Mali is hard to reach though. We need travelling groups to go to those isolated rural areas and talk to people about sexual health. Pregnancy is the girl’s decision, and girls have a right to be healthy, and to choose their future.