Sharing knowhow and joining forces towards Health for All
Public side event to the 72nd World Health Assembly

Are NGOs spoiling our societies? Shrinking Space for SRHR and civil society

Photo: MMS/SRK
Photo: MMS/SRK

Public side event to the 72nd World Health Assembly
Friday, 24 May 2018, 14.30-16.00 hrs in Geneva
The Graduate Institute, Maison de la Paix, Chemin Eugène-Rigot 2

The spaces for sexual and reproductive health and rights are shrinking, and so is the space for civil society organizations engaged in this field.

In 2017 the US Administration under President Trump reinstated a policy known as the “Mexico City Policy” or “global gag rule” requiring foreign NGOs that receive U.S. family planning funds to certify they do not provide abortions or give abortion advice. Since then, the anti-abortion policies of the US administration have been further expanded. They have been critically discussed and countered by many – and silently or openly supported by many others.

All over the world, governments attempt to push back tendencies within societies in favour of gender equality and a variety of lived sexuality. These attempts threaten sexual and reproductive health and rights and by this public health in general.

And all over the world, Civil Society Organisations are playing a crucial role in promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights. Acting and rooted within society they are very much legitimated actors for addressing harmful sexual practises and changing norms to make healthy and rights based sexuality possible.

And all over the world, this civic space is shrinking,and so is the space for journalists and public media to raise issues of perceived social injustice in society.

In its workshop report on the “State of Civic Space and Effects of Shrinking Space on Women human rights defenders in East Africa”, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights states that “over the last few years, governments in East Africa as elsewhere have used security policies, including counterterrorism strategies to restrict public freedoms and the role of civil society”. The report concludes with a renewed call for a civic space that guarantees the freedom of information and expression, the right to assemble and associate, citizen participation, and the rule of law. And no, this call is not dated 1789 nor 1948, but 2018.

In our public side event to the World Health Assembly, panellists and all participants were invited to share their experiences, stories and assessments of this “shrinking space for civil society” – and their strategies to recover the space needed for civil society organizations and their work in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights.


Programme and modalities

Welcome & Introductory Remarks

  • Michaela Told, Executive Director, Global Health Centre, the Graduate Institut
  • Christina de Vries, Senior Health Expert, Cordaid

Panel Discussion with Q&A

  • Deepa Venkatachalam, Director, Sama Resources Group for Women and Health and People’s Health Movement
  • Muriel Weyermann, Programme Manager Chad, Women’s Hope International
  • Felipe Sere, Public Health Officer, Memisa Belgium
  • Ruben Pages, Youth Programmes Coordinator, Community Support, Social Justice and Inclusion Department, UNAIDS

Closing Remarks

  • Martin Leschhorn Strebel, Director, Network Medicus Mundi Switzerland

We wandted to create a public, but protected space for an intensive dialogue on a sensitive matter. The workshop was therefore not be webcast. Participants were requested to refrain from recording the meeting or parts of it and from publishing/tweeting any quotes (Chatham House rules).


Organizers, contact

Contact for enquiries

Other MMI events during the World Health Assembly

  • Thursday, 23 May 19.00-19:50 hrs, Palais des Nations, Room IX
    Boosting community-led responses to reaching the most marginalized
    communities: from local communities, to primary health care to UHC

    Official WHA non-state actor side event, organized by Stichting Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+), supported by Medicus Mundi International. WHA registration required.
    Website: here

  • Saturday 25 May 2019, 9:30-11:30 hrs at the Maison de la Paix
    MMI Annual General Assembly

  • Saturday 25 May 2019, 11:30-13:30 hrs at the Maison de la Paix
    UN High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage (September 2019) and Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Wellbeing for All (GAP)
    This informal briefing about the HLM and GAP is mainly intended for MMI Network members, close civil society colleagues and others who closely follow these processes. Space is limited. Please only come to the meeting if you have received an explicit confirmation of your registration by Friday, 24 May. Thank you.
Find a full overview on MMI activities during the 72th WHA here.

MMI Health Cooperation Workshops

  • 2014: Working towards Health for All: What’s the count?
    What role for civil society action and networking?
  • 2015: A luta continua! Strengthening or weakening health systems?
  • 2016: Promoting access to health in fragile contexts: What role for international cooperation?
  • 2017: Health Cooperation beyond aid
  • 2018: #AidToo: Sexual exploitation in international cooperation


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