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Girls & Women

Meet the Man Who’s Working to Give All Women Control of Their Bodies

Grey Hutton/Global Citizen

Gender equality matters to Belgium — or at least to Deputy Prime Minister Alexander de Croo, the Belgian government official responsible for helping to launch the She Decides campaign earlier this year.

De Croo joined the Netherlands and Denmark in launching the campaign to try and raise funding to support reproductive healthcare for women in developing nations after the United States announced in January that it would pull its funding from any group that even mentions the word “abortion” in its practices.

The campaign, De Croo said in an interview with Global Citizen this week, wasn’t just about responding to US President Donald Trump’s decision, but about the undeniable link between ending global poverty and ensuring that women have control over their bodies.

Now, De Croo is on a mission to create a “new push for feminism” in the world, including among his male counterparts in the Belgian government, whom he says he wants to take feminism as seriously as any female.

Here’s what De Croo had to say about the state of global politics today, the progressive feminism of Europe’s northern countries, and the way he envisions poverty ending in his lifetime.

Read More: #SheDecides: Meet the Real Women Under Threat From Trump’s Attacks on Women’s Health

What do you see as the most important challenge facing the world today?

I think there are two main challenges: ending extreme poverty and affecting climate change. Those are the two main issues in the world today. By definition, everyone knows there’s no one country that can solve it by itself, so we’re forced to do it together. That’s the good thing about the Sustainable Development Goals. For the first time ever, everyone understands that we’ll have to work together.

Everyone understands it?

Well, it’s the first time that people are starting to doubt, too, that working together is the solution. I think you see we’re taking a few steps back to then go forward, but I think it’s a blip you see in some political figures turning inwards.

What should Global Citizens be doing about it?

The thing is, it’s never been easier than today to make your voice heard. Making your voice heard is something important and it’s never been easier, and then going one step further and doing something. If you’re passionate about eradicating poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, it’s quite easy today for you to be part of this, in an active role, in a supportive role, advising, supporting people, motivating people, and so on. That is what has changed in recent decades. When I graduated, you needed to give something to help the world. Today it is not about giving, it’s about doing, and the threshold to doing is lower than it’s ever been.

Why is gender equality so important in Belgium?

If you’re serious about eradicating poverty, you’ll never achieve it if half of the population is eclipsed. Helping women is really the key factor to breaking the poverty you see in so many countries. Having access to family planning is a key element, and it’s really easy.

If you were to ask any man or woman here, what do you think you or your wife’s situation would be if you did not have access to family planning, everyone would understand. You would probably not go into higher education, not go into a job with a higher income and so on. This is what we see in too many sub-Saharan countries: a girl forced to get married at 11, pregnant for basically rest of her life. At the age of 11 she should the have the possibility to decide to stay in school until 18, and decide when to have kids, and how many kids, so she can have a life where she has her future in her hands.

Breaking the cycle of poverty where women can decide for their own body is the key issue in development today. There is no argument I’ve heard that a woman should not be able to decide what to do with her body. I’ve said to my colleagues in government: we should all be feminists. It is about women and girls but where men and boys have a very important role to play. There is a need for a new push of feminism.

Why was the She Decides campaign launched?

She Decides was in part a reaction to the Trump administration decision. You know, you can cry out “scandal,” and say we do not agree with it, but the US is a sovereign country that can make its own decisions. And then, in reaction, we can see what we can do. That is the basis of She Decides. We can see how we can rally money together to see that women are not pushed back into the Dark Ages. The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Belgium are countries that have always been progressive on ethical discussions — gay marriage, we’ve had for decades already — and it is something if you would talk to to any person in Belgium they would say yes that makes sense.

What role do men play in shaping gender equality today?

I’ve been talking to my male colleagues in government because there is policy, there are choices we make that have an impact on lives of women. In general, the  government should have 50/50 men and women ministers, which is not everywhere the case.

For every person, this is also about the way we organize our lives. I have two young kids. I try to explain to them that the sports they do, when they play soccer, they play with girls, and I try to push them and say let’s break stereotypes. Girls are not doing stereotypical girl things, and boys are not doing stereotypical boy things. We should all be much more aware of breaking stereotypes.

Global Citizen is campaigning with Belgium, the Netherlands, Canada, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark, and other global leaders to fund the #SheDecides campaign, to help ensure that women around the world receive the healthcare they need.