|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Launch of High-level Task Force Recommendations
of International Conference on Population and Development
Critical sexual and reproductive rights — as enshrined at the 1994 landmark International Conference on Population and Development (also known as the Cairo Programme of Action) — must be bolstered as a priority issue in the post-2015 development agenda, stressed high-profile speakers at a Headquarters press conference.
Speaking at the press conference were Former President of Finland Tarja Halonen and former President of Mozambique Joaquim Alberto Chissano — both co-Chairs of the Cairo Programme’s High-level Task Force, an independent body joining leaders from Government, civil society and the philanthropic sectors. Joining them were Ishita Chaudhry, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The YP Foundation (TYPF) in New Delhi, and moderator María José Alcalá, Director of the Task Force.
The event marked the launch of a series of policy recommendations by the Task Force on actions beyond 2014, entitled “Sexual and reproductive health and rights for all”. It also offered a chance for the participants to share their individual views on sexual and reproductive health and rights, the empowerment of women and youth and related issues.
“We are at a historic moment,” said Ms. Halonen, noting that, over the next year, the international community would not only take stock of progress in implementing the Cairo Programme of Action, but would define a post-2015 development agenda. Much had been accomplished since the adoption of the Programme in 1994 and the Millennium Development Goals in 2000; however, much remained to be done. Fundamental freedoms and human rights, in particular sexual and reproductive rights, lay at the core of human dignity, and efforts to promote them needed be redoubled.
Outlining some of the recommendations of the Task Force, she said that all sectors of society must be mobilized to create an enabling environment for the realization of sexual and reproductive rights without stigma or discrimination. That meant acknowledging that sexuality was a positive aspect of life. Also crucial was the building of tolerance, non-discrimination and respect.
Among other things, she called for high quality, integrated sexual and reproductive information, education and services. A full range of modern contraceptives should be made widely available. Additionally, universal access to services for victims and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence were needed. No society should ever “look the other way” on those issues, she stressed, adding that “we have to be brave enough to see and brave enough to act.”
“The international community has a historic opportunity to deliver on the [International Conference on Population and Development] Programme of Action,” agreed Mr. Chissano. He emphasized that fulfilling sexual and reproductive health and rights was not only a moral imperative, but also offered practical development solutions. Moreover, it helped to fully unleash the potential of women and to harness the human capital needed to reduce poverty, improve public health and enable women parents to invest more per child.
Investments in sexual and reproductive health were proven to be cost effective, he continued. Every dollar spent on family planning offered a return of up to $30 dollars, which could be invested in other development priorities. Communities should also reject harmful social norms of control and the oppression of rights in matters of human sexuality.
He went on to say that the Task Force’s recommendations also put forward that there would be no equitable development until all people had the right to decide on the course of their lives, free of coercion and discrimination. Indeed, he stressed, the Task Force’s recommendations were not only the right thing to do, but they were common sense. No country could afford to sit on the sidelines. “We urge countries to build on what has already been accomplished” through the Cairo Programme of Action, he said.
In a world with 1.2 billion adolescents, “a young person’s voice gets lost”, said Ms. Chaudhry. Those voices were compromised in negotiations, treaties and geopolitical relationships. However, without the realization of such rights, there could be no economic or social justice. For example, a “staggering” 16 million adolescent girls gave birth each year, many of whom then suffered from complications of pregnancy or childbirth or even death. Young women must be empowered to choose the course of their own lives.
In that regard, she shared the story of a 17-year-old girl known to her foundation in New Delhi. Showing up one day with bruises, the young woman finally admitted that her brother hit her. As much as Ms.Chaudhry wanted to help, she realized that only when the girl herself was empowered would she be able to break the cycle of violence. Over time, the girl was able to say no to her brother, and currently was on track to finish school, with hopes of working with The YP Foundation.
On sexual and reproductive rights, Ms. Chaudhry continued, the task force was encouraging the international community to adopt a uniform definition and standards of good practice. Those needed to be based on scientifically accurate information, as well as sexual education that went beyond biology to matters of human rights, mutual respect and diversity. Further, education and services must reach out to adolescents, both in and out of school, with those programmes linked to quality sexual and reproductive health services.
Ms.Alcalá also made brief remarks, noting that “there is much unfinished business to the Cairo Agenda”. Twenty years after its adoption, critical gaps remained, perpetuating poverty, exclusion, discrimination and inequality. “The gravest consequences of the denial of sexual and reproductive health and rights fall precisely on people who are most vulnerable, most marginalized and living in poverty,” she said in that regard.
Every day, 800 women around the world died needlessly from pregnancy and childbirth complications, she pointed out. Some 220 million women would like to prevent pregnancy, but were not using modern contraception, leading to unplanned pregnancies and unsafe abortions. In addition, 2,000 young people a day were infected with HIV. “These are problems with proven solutions,” she said, urging that efforts to implement the Cairo Programme of Action — and to go beyond it — be redoubled.
The speakers then took questions from correspondents, including several which focused on the issues of religion and sensitive social and cultural norms. Asked how to deal with religious opponents of sexual and reproductive rights, Ms. Halonen responded that the Task Force, in fact, worked with many religious leaders. Being part of a religion did not preclude supporting those rights, she underscored. There were always people that would say no to information, and, in those instances, the issue would take time and sensitivity.
Adding to that, Ms. Chaudhry said that access to both information and education was about putting the decision to make informed choices into the hands of young people. It was not about telling them what they should not do, but rather, about helping them make their own decisions based on information. Stigma surrounding sexuality education remained very high at the community level, she noted, and it came from a “very human” place of not understanding. Both a policy approach and a community-level approach were therefore crucial in engendering change.
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