Advocating for women’s sexual health rights: Irma’s story

Irma van Dueren is the Deputy Ambassador for the Netherlands in Burundi, where she focuses on matters relating to women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

At International Alert we too are working to bring about change in this area. We focus on the practical challenges of combatting sexual violence in conflict, try to contextualise it and place it in the broader framework of enduring gender inequality.

Today, less than 10% of negotiators in peace agreements are women. If women are not part of the solution, of often long-term conflict with deep consequences for their lives, the solution will not be durable. We cannot leave such important issues only to men.

"That is why this year I want to see more women represented in decision-making on conflict resolution, peacekeeping and peacebuilding issues, and I want all international resolutions and agreements on women, peace and security to be implemented.

The evidence supports this with the chances of a final peace agreement being reached are much higher when women are part of the negotiation process. We know that the odds of these peace agreements being implemented and the resulting peace being sustainable are also much higher. So, I want women to be at negotiation tables, in leadership positions, as participants, as mediators and as observers, as a given. That will help us create a more peaceful and inclusive world for all."

“Everyone benefits if women can make their own choices”

"Our SRHR programmes help women gain access to education, information and health services, enabling them to have control over their own bodies.

The women and girls we meet tell us about the importance of this work in their lives. In families where women have more say, household tasks are divided more equally. Men are also more involved in childcare and develop better relations with their children. Everyone benefits if women can make their own choices.

For girls, it is important that, before starting a family, they have the chance to go to school and fully participate in society. These basic human rights have very important implications for every woman’s life, health and chance to earn an income. However, in many countries, women are unable to exercise their right to make such choices, especially regarding their sexuality.

Sadly, some recent political decisions have further hindered access for these women. For example, the global gag rule that was reinstated by Donald Trump caused a huge drop in funding for organisations that provide abortion support. I am proud that our Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Lilianne Ploumen, set up an initiative called ‘She Decides’, which will help counter this by increasing financial as well as political support for sexual health and family planning worldwide. It is already a huge success which we will continue to push this forward."

Overcoming the stereotypes

My work has allowed me to bring women of all sections of society together to inspire each other, build alliances and create change. It has also changed me in the sense that I want to stand up for what I want and be a role model: to coach young women to become gender activists and to go after their dreams without being influenced by stereotyping and biases in society.

Making brave voices heard globally

"This women’s day I want to highlight the great change made by the many brave and inspiring women fighting daily to end all types of violence against women and ensure they have influence and participation across all sectors. This fight isn’t always without danger. Salwa Bugaighis, a women leader and human rights lawyer from Libya, was assassinated on Election Day just after exercising her right to vote in June 2014.

Women facing violence is not uncommon but it does not stop them building coalitions and advocating, lobbying, and building awareness on women’s issues, priorities and rights. I admire that and see it as our work as diplomats and representatives of international organisations to support their work and make their voices heard across the world."

> Read more inspirational stories from women around the world