The Netherlands to take the lead?

It is election time in the Netherlands. Therefore, Dutch politicians from five different political parties were invited by ShareNet, Rutgers and Aidsfonds to discuss the role of the Dutch government in development cooperation with regard to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).

Is there a problem that the Dutch government must interfere with? Why wouldn’t we leave it to countries to decide upon their own policies? Especially in the field of sexuality, which is so personal, and where local practices and values may conflict with our own. However, basic human rights are at stake such as acceptance of sexual and gender diversity and the right to decide about number, timing and spacing of having children. Because these rights are so fundamental, our involvement is justified according those present.

Three of the political parties that were invited were on the progressive side of the political spectrum, labour (PvdA), green (GroenLinks), and progressive liberal (D66). The three were virtually indistinguishable during the discussion, and the audience was in their corner as well. Luckily, the Christian democratic party (CDA) and conservative liberals (VVD) were represented as well.

The funding of SRHR development cooperation was the main topic during the discussion. The VVD want to cut funding (which already received severe cuts during the past few years) from 3.7 billion euros to 1 billion euros. The progressive parties wanted to restore funding to 0.7% of the gross national product (over 6 billion), which is the internationally agreed minimum. When problems in Eastern Europe were discussed, such as rising HIV rates, progressive parties were unified in saying that these should be addressed as well. According to the representatives of PvdA and Groen Links, funding to this end should be added to the 0.7%, while D66 did not think additional funding was warranted.

The Netherlands play a leading role in addressing SRHR within a development cooperation context. NGOs work with the Dutch government and embassies to advance SRHR awareness, access to services and supplies, and comprehensive sexuality education. All five parties, including the ones on the conservative side of the political spectrum supported continuation of this work (albeit with much less money, if VVD get their way). For me personally, this meeting did not help me to make a decision which party to vote for. Luckily, there are other issues than SRHR that may be important in making such a decision. Otherwise I would not be able to choose between the progressive parties on 15 March.

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