Catching up with… Sara Österlund

Portrait Sara Österlund

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Sara Österlund, coordinator, Swedish platform for global Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) issues

What activities has the platform carried out during the autumn?

“We have started up two new working groups, which means we now have five working groups: SRHR and Universal Health Coverage, Sexual and gender-based violence, Safe abortion, Menstrual health sub-group and SRHR and social and religious norms sub-group. There has been a lot of interest for engaging in these, not the least in the newest ones; Menstrual health and the sub-group for social and religious norms, which both started this autumn. We arranged a seminar in the beginning of December on social and religious norms, where researchers, CSOs and Sida (The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency) representatives participated.

Why is the platform for global SRHR issues important?

“It is of significant value that representatives of academia, CSOs and authorities meet and discuss; that experienced from grassroot levels and concrete examples are highlighted to researchers and that new evidence reaches CSOs and authorities. Within the working groups there are opportunities to further deepen such exchange of experiences and knowledge and in the longer run gain the advantage of a stronger common voice. Researchers can benefit from a greater knowledge of the challenges that CSOs meet, enabling them to match their research with the opportunities and gaps out there.”

How has the platform developed in terms of new members?

“In connection with our annual conference this spring some 50 new members enrolled. You do not have to live in Sweden to join, it is enough that you work in a “Swedish context” with global SRHR issues. That is why we also have embassy staff participating.”

What are the main questions in 2022?

“How to make sure that SRHR is included in research, initiatives and programs that aim at “building back better”. In the context of Covid we are now trying to make the world more resilient, equal, and sustainable to new global crises. Universal health coverage and resilient health systems are important parts of this. To end poverty and inequalities, SRHR must be at the heart of universal health coverage and of the political agenda.

How has the pandemic impacted SRHR issues?

“Women, girls and LGBT persons have disproportionally suffered in by the societal effects of Covid-19, including by lock-downs and travel restrictions. Many aspects of SRHR have been reversed during the pandemic. Sexual and gender-based violence has increased, healthcare systems have been clobbered, and access to contraceptives has been reduced. Increased levels of poverty have contributed to child marriage going up.”

What are your hopes for the platform in 2022?

I hope for a continued great commitment for the work of the platform and new opportunities to get together in person for meetings. I hope that we will be able to undertake joint global advocacy activities and to start research projects in cooperation with authorities and CSOs.”

What level of interest do you experience from young scientists?

“We see increased interest from young scientists for research in these areas. And in this respect, SIGHT is a channel for attracting young scientists and students, for instance at seminars. Many young people have joined our platform, which is very positive. The great thing about the platform is that it creates a new space for scientists, CSOs and authorities to meet and engage in cross-sectorial activities. For them to be able to meet is unique. Also, this means possibilities to dig deeper in a lot of areas for these groups. The SIGHT structure is interesting. A lot has happened in the short time that SIGHT has existed, and we see a growing interest for all our working groups, with people from CSOs, authorities and the scientific community.”

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