What motivated you to take on your current position as SRHR and HIV/AIDS Ambassador?
“I have lived and worked all across the world and witnessed many cases of extreme inequality and injustice. You don’t need to be a SRHR expert to see that that inequality and injustice also apply to gender roles, limited access of young people to information and contraception, discrimination and stigmatisation of people living with HIV and other SRHR related issues. During my last post abroad I was Ambassador in Nicaragua, a country which faces huge SRHR challenges, extremely restrictive abortion laws, high teenage pregnancy rates, a high percentage of child marriage and a lot of sexual violence. When I was asked to become SRHR Ambassador I therefore didn’t hesitate for a second.”
What achievement are you most proud of and what challenges lie ahead?
“Within the Ministry I have striven to achieve broad support for SRHR. I believe that this has been largely achieved. I have amongst others raised awareness for the fact that SRHR is very much a political topic and that it is part of our human rights agenda. Our negotiations in New York, the debate within the EU on the exemption positions of Malta and Hungary in the field of reproductive rights, the commitment to HIV/AIDS programmes in Eastern Europe and our policy in the field of harm reduction are a few examples which illustrate this.
One very concrete result we as Ministry of Foreign Affairs, together with a broad group of external partners, have achieved is bringing the 2018 International Aids Conference to Amsterdam. This Conference will serve to highlight our approach in support of and commitment to girls and women living with HIV (mainly in Southern Africa) as well as so-called key populations, especially in middle-income countries.
My ambitions include, amongst others, working on further integration of SRHR and HIV/AIDS, working out linkages between religion and sexuality and enabling discussions about ‘taboo’ topics such as contraception, comprehensive sexuality education and abortion to take place in a more effective, constructive manner. When it comes to that, there is still a lot to do! Think about the millions of people without access to contraception or the enormous challenge of achieving behaviour change on all of these ethical topics. At the same time I do see a lot of progress. I don’t believe in the black-and-white distinction between ‘progressive’ and ‘conservative’ countries; the resistance in the Western world to abortion, comprehensive sexuality education and similar issues should not be underestimated, and I have heard many progressive and ground-breaking ideas from citizens in countries like Iran and Pakistan. In the end, I think that it is these citizens who will lead their communities and governments towards a more inclusive society. This will take time, as can be concluded from the history of the COC or the Rutgers Foundation in the Netherlands.”
How familiar are you with the work of Simavi and what do you see as the role for Simavi in relation to these challenges?
“My memories of Simavi go back a long way, to when I was an 11 year old lad collecting money in the streets with a Simavi collection box. Since I am SRHR and HIV/AIDS Ambassador I have of course become acquainted with Simavi’s work in the area of SRHR. I also find the WASH side of Simavi’s work interesting and relevant to SRHR. I am pleased that Simavi often links these two important dimensions: we all know how important separate latrines and (recyclable) sanitary pads are for reducing the school drop-out rate amongst girls and how important education is for a 12 year old girl in order for her to make informed choices about the number and spacing of children she would like to have.”
Follow the work of the Ambassador for SRHR & HIV/AIDS on Facebook.