Alexander De Croo brings a working visit to Benin and Senegal together with UN Goodwill Ambassadors Goedele Liekens and Axelle Red

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Development Cooperation Alexander De Croo this week brings a four-day working visit to Benin and Senegal. He will be accompanied by Goedele Liekens and Axelle Red, both active as Goodwill Ambassadors for the United Nations. The four-day visit fits in with the initiative 'She Decides', which focuses on the reinforcement of rights for girls and women, and in particular with regard to their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Alexander De Croo: “I am delighted that Goedele Liekens and Axelle Red were willing to get involved. They have both fought hard for the rights of girls and women over the years, and this is a top priority in the Belgian development policy. As one of the leading countries of She Decides, Belgium will invest in the coming years even more to help create greater opportunities for women and girls. For example, to allow them to finish school and decide for themselves who they wish to marry and how many children they want.”
Goedele Liekens has been a Goodwill Ambassador for UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, ever since the late 1990s. She appeals for better access to sexual and reproductive health, including better sex education in developing countries. Axelle Red has been volunteering as an ambassador for UNICEF Belgium, the United Nations Children's Fund, for almost twenty years. She is focused on achieving greater respect for children's rights.
Goedele Liekens, Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA): “I’m very proud that Belgium is an leading country for the SheDecides initiative. This is fundamental development aid, with a positive effect in the long term. At UNFPA, we focus on spreading information for women to decide for themselves if and when they want children, and on assisting in desired pregnancies, so mother and child can look forward to a healthy future. Every minute, somewhere a woman dies because of the complications of a pregnancy. Our mission is to assure good pre- and postnatal medical assistance, even in the most remote areas, as for example with the mobile clinic boat we use in Benin.”
Axelle Red, Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF Belgium: “As a UNICEF Ambassador, as a mother of 3 children and as an artist, I am very concerned with the fight against child marriage. In Benin, one in ten girls under age fifteen is married and three in ten girls marry before they are 18 years old. If we want to give more opportunities to girls, we have to stop child marriage. Therefore, I’m happy that the fight against child marriage is central in the agreement that the Belgian government and UNICEF will sign in Benin.”
Family planning, maternity care and sexual education
During their trip to Benin and Senegal, Minister De Croo, Goedele Liekens and Axelle Red are to visit a whole range of projects focused on improving sexual and reproductive health and rights. Their programme includes visits to initiatives related to family planning, maternity care, sexual education and contraception.
The trip also features an official meeting with Benin's president Patrice Tallon and his wife Claudine, who set up a foundation in early March, aimed at improving the life of women in Benin. In Senegal, the delegation will meet Health Minister Awa Coll Seck.
181 million awarded during Brussels conference
This working visit is a continuation of the She Decides initiative, for which Belgium is one of the leading countries. She Decides started after the new American president early this year cancelled the funding for a number of international organisations working on sexual and reproductive health and rights in developing countries.
During an international conference in Brussels, organised by minister De Croo and his colleagues from the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, donor countries and private foundations agreed to donate a total of 181 million euros in additional funding for initiatives aimed at improving the sexual and reproductive rights and health for girls and women in poor countries. Belgium also released an additional ten million euros. In total, 450 representatives from over 50 countries and organisations came to Brussels to demonstrate their support for She Decides.
A wider movement
The four ‘founding’ countries have now decided to extend She Decides and to turn it into a wider movement. Countries, organisations, businesses and individuals will soon be able to become a member by signing the She Decides manifesto. The movement will be led by a core team of countries in the North and South, the United Nations Population Funds (UNFPA) and the international NGO International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).