In Sex og Politikk, the Norwegian association for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), we closely monitor the development and response to COVID-19. We are in dialogue with the Norwegian authorities, giving input to their work and assessing their response to the crisis. Together with five other NGOs, we were invited to provide input on how the Norwegian authorities can ensure that equality and the needs of women, girls and marginalized groups are taken care of, even during the pandemic.
Sex og Politikk has advocated for the need of an international, solidarity and gender-based approach to the COVID-19 response. We think it is key for Norway to contribute to ensuring women have access to contraceptive care and use innovative solutions to enable access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH), including comprehensive sexuality education. In addition, we advocate for the need for financial support for civil society, in order to ensure that human rights organisations, women’s organisations and SRHR organisations can maintain their services.
The Norwegian government confirms that the work to advance women’s rights, gender equality and SRHR is always an important priority, and that Norway is committed to continuing to lead on gender equality and women’s rights in the midst of COVID-19. Norway also emphasized the need to include a gender dimension throughout the COVID-19 response.
Norway has been a strong advocate for the establishment of the new United Nations COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, which will assist countries in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Norway has committed 150 million NOK to this fund.  The country is now a part of the Trust Fund’s advisory committee and has worked to ensure that UN Women will be part of the advisory group, and that gender perspectives are included in the Fund’s work.
Furthermore, Norway has increased its support by NOK 2.2 billion for the work to develop vaccines against the virus that has caused the COVID-19 pandemic.  Norway also contributes with NOK 22.5 million to COVID-19 test-kits provided by The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Minister of International Development has stated that he is pleased that IAEA is prioritizing the distribution of test-kits so that they reach the vulnerable countries that need it the most.  In addition, Norway is contributing with NOK 13.4 million to the procurement of urgently needed equipment, including personal protective equipment for health workers in Malawi. Malawi is one of Norway’s long-term partner countries for development cooperation and health is one of the focus areas of our cooperation. 
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has signed strategic partnership agreements with 6 Norwegian NGOs for humanitarian funds, in the total of NOK 1.7 billion for 2020.  This funding is not tied to COVID-19 responses, but both the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs and the NGOs stated that responding to the pandemic will be an important part of their work in the future. The Ministry and Norad also paved the way for more flexibility in the NGOs’ use of aid funds.  The Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs is a strong supporter of SRHR and has expressed concern about the increase of sexual and gender-based violence (SGVB) during the crisis and the ability of NGOs to continue their work on this issue amid the current health crisis.
By Kristine Bjartnes, Sex og Politikk
Photo credit: Tommy Trenchard