RHSC’s 400th member – the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)
13th February 2017
Sida’s Lead Policy Specialist for Health and SRHR, Pia Engstrand, speaks to the Coalition Secretariat about rights, supplies, and partnerships.
Why have you joined the Coalition – and why now?
The question is really “Why did we not join the RHSC earlier?” There are so many overlaps in the work and mission of Sida and the RHSC – reproductive health and supplies to name just two. We must be a part of this network of so many partners we don’t frequently encounter, both global, international actors but also members in countries where we don’t have bilateral engagements. It is important for us to understand, and continue to learn, about their challenges and priorities, and to have this guide and inform Sida’s efforts.
It is the rich and varied information available under one umbrella that is particularly attractive about the RHSC model. Scaling up our presence in Myanmar, for example, will not be the same as scaling up in Zambia; it’s the distinctive information one can access because of the Coalition’s breadth of membership that is important to us.
Sida intends to scale up its commitment to sexual and reproductive health and rights, and intensify its dialogue with key stakeholders; our membership of the Coalition is part of our overall response.
We think that our membership of the Coalition is extremely timely. In these difficult times, with the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy/Global Gag Rule, Sida intends to scale up its commitment to sexual and reproductive health and rights, and intensify our dialogue with key stakeholders; our membership of the Coalition is part of our overall response.
What is Sida’s approach to increasing contraceptive access?
Sida’s overall mission is to create opportunities for people living in poverty – this principle is intrinsic to Sida and guides all of our efforts. The commitment to “leaving no-one behind” embedded in the Sustainable Development Goals signals to the world that the poorest people, regardless of country or context, have a basic human right to dignity and well-being. Gender equality and women’s empowerment are the foundation for sustainable development.
We at Sida are not keen on the term “family planning”; rather, we prefer “access to contraception”. Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are for ALL people, not just for those planning the spacing and number of their children.
Many women and girls living in poverty are oppressed and their right to reproductive health is threatened by developments around the world, through the Global Gag Rule, through lack of representation in global and national negotiations, and at the community level where they are often excluded, and prevented from having a say in matters concerning their lives. Women who are not able to control their fertility cannot fulfil their own potential or contribute to society as full and equal citizens. Young women have a right to live their adolescent lives to their fullest potential before they consider having children – this should be a choice that is fully theirs, and not imposed. We at Sida are not keen on the term “family planning”; rather, we prefer “access to contraception”. Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are for ALL people, not just for those planning the spacing and number of their children. It is this rights-based mindset which is fundamental to our ethos at Sida. The Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Sida have always jointly expressed our unwavering support for gender equality and access to safe abortion, including at the Commission on the Status of Women and the Commission on Population and Development.
What particular aspect of the Coalition is valuable to the RH community?
The private sector is a large source of innovation, employment and growth that has the potential to positively affect the situation for people living in poverty in developing countries.
It’s very good that RHSC has so many private sector members and engages generic manufacturers in addressing pertinent issues. The overarching goal of all of Sida’s work is to create conditions for people living in poverty to improve their livelihoods. The private sector is a large source of innovation, employment and growth that has the potential to positively affect the situation for people living in poverty in developing countries. Sida’s collaboration with the private sector is aimed at harnessing this potential to enable well-functioning, inclusive and sustainable markets, value chains or business models. The private sector is a partner with both the responsibility and the capacity to help accelerate the fight against poverty in all its forms.
Sida is part of a group of stakeholders that brought about the Implant Access Initiative launched in 2013, which halved prices for contraceptive implants (Jadelle® and Implanon® and Implanon NXT®) through 2018, making them more accessible for women in some of the world’s poorest countries. The price reductions were just the first step. The work continues with the training of health workers on counselling and proper implant insertion and removal; reduction of supply chain disruptions; increasing service delivery quality and availability; and raising awareness about implants at the community level. We appreciate that the RHSC’s work in 2011 under the Implanon Access Initiative was a forerunner to the volume guarantee that led to millions of dollars in savings and increased affordability.
We also established the Swedish Leadership for Sustainable Development network – 20+ large Swedish companies --including giants such as Ikea and Volvo -- in order to advance efforts aimed at the attainment of the SDGs. They are jointly committed, at CEO level, to reducing negative impacts on environment and promoting efficient use of resources, creating decent jobs, productive employment and development opportunities, fighting corruption and unethical behaviour, as well as promoting gender equality and equal rights for all.
What is one outstanding challenge in development?
Funding for civil society is falling and its leaders’ positions are threatened.
There are many. One of them is that we need strong civil society advocates with a rights perspective, and who have the ability to hold governments to account. At this particular time, we see a shrinking space for civil society to operate freely without intimidation. As low-income countries graduate increasingly into middle-income countries, funding from development assistance is phasing out, and governments that still continue to fund service delivery usually reduce or stop support for advocacy and accountability. Funding for civil society is falling and its leaders’ positions are threatened.
What does the future hold?
In December 2016, Sida -- together with MSI, Ipas and RFSU -- hosted a two-day meeting on safe abortion here in Stockholm. Forty-five stakeholders represented likeminded SRHR donors and agencies, implementing organisations and academic institutions, and discussed obstacles to, and opportunities for, scaling up safe abortion. The RHSC was also represented. The meeting resulted in a Common Agenda on Safe Abortion, which identified the main priorities within six essential areas for the coming four years: services; legal and policy environment; commodity security; community engagement; research; and advocacy and campaigning. In the meeting we worked together across boundaries traditionally present between implementers, donors and researchers. We identified the top priorities for increasing access to safe abortion in the near future.
Partnerships such as those within the RHSC offer key solutions to contraceptive access for all.
We all left the meeting with new energy and an intensified sense of purpose, despite the increasingly challenging times that we are facing. We remain committed to moving the access agenda forward, in a future where partnerships such as those within the RHSC offer key solutions to contraceptive access for all.