The Dutch Politician Taking On Trump's 'Global Gag' Rule

Trump has been in power for just over a month, and boy have we felt it. He has wasted absolutely no time trying to implement his divisive and often controversial policies.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, women were one of the first groups to be affected. On his first full day in office, President Trump signed an executive order to reinstate the 'global gag' rule, a US government policy that strips funds from any organisation performing or promoting abortion as a method of family planning overseas.
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Even organisations that use their own money to provide or discuss abortion services, and receive money from the US government for other healthcare projects, like contraception, will see those funds disappear.
The potential ramifications are no laughing matter. The ban could create a $600m void, leading to millions of poor women losing birth control access, and thousands could die as a consequence of unsafe abortions or from avoidable pregnancy complications.
While the world recoiled at the news, one woman sprung into action and launched 'She Decides' – an international fund looking to curb the chaos Trump's legislation will cause.
Lilianne Ploumen is a politician for the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA), and has been minister for foreign trade and development cooperation in the Netherlands since 2012. She is a firm believer in the fact that if people don't stand up for the rights of women and girls, "everyone will suffer".
"To be able to decide if you want to have sex, with whom and have babies, these matters all define who you are as a person. In many countries of the world, there’s a lack of services to help women make those decisions for themselves, which is why these health organisations are so crucial," she says.
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"This is a time to really act. We hear a lot of talk about what President Trump does or doesn’t do and his decisions. But if we all just listen to that and not act, many women will suffer because of those decisions. I didn’t want to let that happen."
Ploumen has been a feminist activist “for as long as she can remember” – from 1996 to 2001, she was director of the international women’s fund, Mama Cash, the first of its kind anywhere in the world when it was founded in 1983.
Since then, Ploumen’s work as a politician has allowed her to push her feminist ideals by working on a variety of initiatives, including ensuring that women and girls in refugee camps are better protected, working against child marriage and standing up for the rights of women working in the agricultural sector.
“I wanted to make sure all of those issues would get the attention they deserve. But I am a firm believer that you should get organised in order to really change things,” she says.
And this is exactly what she did. Two days after Trump’s announcement, Ploumen told the world she would be creating a fund in direct response to the order. The approach was very much “announce it and work our way through it”, she admits.
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“Looking back, it was the right decision to just go ahead and not get everything organised to the max. We are asking people to bear with us, as not all the PayPal functions are there yet. But I’m sure people will as it’s so important to all of us,” she explains.
Almost instantly after the fund’s launch, citizen initiatives sprung up to help, raising over 200,000 euros so far. Then the Dutch government announced it would be injecting 10 million euros. Other countries, including Canada, Denmark, Belgium, Estonia and Sweden have since pledged their support. And most recently, the Norwegian government pledged another 10 million euros.
But not everyone agrees with Ploumen’s fund, with Trump supporters arguing that it should not be down to Western governments to fund these types of projects. When questioned on this, she is quick to dismiss the claim by insisting that the rights of women and girls “concern all of us”.
“President Trump has been democratically elected. Of course we respect his decisions, but we are democratically elected too by the Dutch people and we look differently at those issues.
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“Some people would argue – is abortion the only issue that is relevant? And to them I would say no. These organisations also provide counselling, family planning, sexual education, contraceptives and make sure women can deliver their babies safely. This executive order has an incredibly broad impact.”
The position of women and girls has recently been strengthened, she says, due to the UN’s 2015 ‘Global Goals’ programme, which has put women’s rights at the top of the global agenda. Nevertheless, she has seen a worrying trend among conservative governments.
“With conservative tendencies, women and girls’ rights are usually the first to be affected and attacked. We can’t let that happen” she says.
And there is another threat on the horizon. The Dutch national elections are coming up in March and, like other European countries such as France and Germany, conservative nationalist parties are on the rise.
In the Netherlands, far-right leader Geert Wilders is currently topping the polls, and is actively advocating to ban the Quran, as well as shut Holland’s borders to any Muslim immigrants. As a result, there are concerns that Ploumen's fund may be shut down or restricted if he gets into power.
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Ploumen is herself running for Parliament, and admits that her party isn’t doing “that great”, judging by the polls. Nevertheless, she believes that progressive parties are far more organised compared to previous elections. The Netherlands is always led by a coalition government, made up of two or more dominant parties, which could also soften the blow.
“No one party can rule by itself, and parties have said it’s unthinkable that they would form a collation with Wilders, because their ideas and beliefs are very far from each other,” she says.
“And even our conservative parties like to say that the rights of women and girls need to be protected,” she adds. “I think they should stay true to their word and support my initiative. But they’ve not spoken out yet, which is very disappointing. In other circumstances, they always speak out. But we’ll have to wait and see what happens.”
The fund is set to stay in place for the duration of Trump’s presidency, unless he decides to drop his plans – but Ploumen isn’t feeling too hopeful about this happening. In the meantime, she is determined to rally more governments behind the cause, including the UK.
She concludes: “I haven’t met Theresa May just yet, but I know the UK and its people have always stood firm when it comes to women’s rights. I hope they will show similar support for She Decides.”
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