Lead of SDSU: Support team to the Global Movement, May 2017-April 2019

A world where every girl and woman can decide what to do with her body, with her life and with her future. Without question.

It was hugely exciting to play a leadership role in the start up of SheDecides – the progressive global political movement driving change, fuelled by community action and with young people at its heart. I was asked to co-create and co-lead the support team (SDSU) that underpinned the development of the movement, drawing on my experience as a feminist engaged in the early days of the AIDS crisis and transferring lessons from all the amazing movements that have achieved so much change. For too long the women’s movement has lagged behind – especially in the areas of women’s health, sexual rights and reproductive justice. Not any more!

Well described in this article in the Guardian, I played a central role in building the SheDecides movement that now brings together 43 Champions (Ambassadors) and over 140,000 friends of the movement in 183 countries to advance the rights of girls and women to decide about their bodies, and in particular to access sexual and reproductive health and realize their rights.

My role was to grow and expand the movement. That meant making sure that it focuses on all aspects of what is buried in the acronym “SRHR” – never losing sight of the importance of advocating for safe abortion and comprehensive sexuality education (the issues that seem to spark the most controversy in some parts of our world) but also keeping a firm focus on HIV, gender violence, female genital cutting – encompassing the whole of the definition so well articulated in the Lancet Commission on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.

A central part of my work was reaching out to diverse Champions who would stand up and play a vital role in the movement. My focus was especially to reach young leaders, and to engage with community and political leaders in African countries and beyond the original northern European donor governments who sparked the movement. I am delighted that the governments of Southern Africa, meeting at SADC, agreed a bold new strategy and a scorecard to hold themselves accountable for creating a world where SheDecides. SheDecides local movements across the region are taking bold action to support communities and to keep these commitments on track.

My core contribution has been to ensure active engagement and ownership across the widest range of stakeholders, building a movement that reaches for change in diverse countries and regions. Starting up the movement’s support team I worked with a talented group of colleagues from all over the world – initially leading with Rebekka van Roemburg, an SRHR specialist from the Netherlands, to: oversee establishment of the unit, building and motivating a high quality small team; create and support a nimble, inclusive governance structure; develop and implement a strategic direction; establish and deliver a high impact communication strategy with a novel narrative to change social norms as well as policies and to unlock resources. In the latter months I supported a complex move from the initial host CIFF, a philanthropic Foundation, to IPPF, an international NGO, securing the finances and infrastructure to sustain the work for the future. It is wonderful to see Naisola Likimani driving the movement forward supported by a dynamic team of staff from around the world.