Discrimination against Females Single Biggest Obstacle to Public Health, Special Envoy Says as Commission on Population Opens Session
Discrimination against Females Single Biggest Obstacle to Public Health, Special Envoy Says as Commission on Population Opens Session
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Commission on Population and Development
2nd & 3rd Meetings (AM & PM)
Discrimination against Females Single Biggest Obstacle to Public Health,
Special Envoy Says as Commission on Population Opens Session
Delegates Also Hear from Deputy Secretary-General, UNFPA Executive Director
While the last 20 years had seen remarkable gains in achieving universal education, reducing maternal mortality, and increasing access to sexual and reproductive health services, growing inequity was preventing the most marginalized from realizing their human rights, United Nations experts said today, as the Commission on Population and Development launched its forty-seventh session.
The theme of the session, which runs until 11 April, focuses on “Assessment of the status of the implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development”. Adopted in Cairo in 1994, the landmark accord endorsed a 20-year strategy that emphasized the links between population and development, and importantly, centred on meeting the needs of individuals— particularly women — rather than achieving demographic targets.
In opening remarks, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said the Conference had marked a turning point in the historic push for people-centred development, setting forth an agenda for inclusive and equitable growth. Twenty years on, fewer people lived in extreme poverty, gender equality was gaining ground, and more people were living longer, healthier lives. Yet, the exclusion of some groups placed those gains at risk. There was an urgent responsibility to create opportunities for entrepreneurship, especially for young people.
Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), recalled that Cairo had been part of a forward-moving agenda to empower women and girls. “While we have moved forward, there is still much to do,” he said. Gender discrimination persisted. Poor urban and rural women alike lacked access to family planning, and one in three births in developing countries were not registered. The gaps in the Programme of Action must be examined to bring the promise of the early 1990s to all.
Broadly agreeing, Paulette Bethel (Bahamas), speaking on behalf of John W. Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda), President of the General Assembly, said the 194-member body had decided to extend the Programme of Action beyond 2014, due to the gaps in implementation, and called for an operational review to respond to new challenges. The Cairo consensus must be fully integrated into the post-2015 development agenda and the new sustainable development goals.
Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said the Assembly’s special session in September would be an opportunity to renew political support for the goals of the International Conference and define work in the field of population and development for years to come. “Governments need to plan for the developmental consequences of population trends before they unfold,” he said, stressing that they could influence population trends through rights-based policies that expanded individual choices and opportunities.
In a keynote address, Nafis Sadik, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, said it was not enough to plan for the 200 million women who lacked reproductive health care today. Policymakers must look at the needs of girls entering reproductive age in the coming decades. “The biggest single obstacle to better public health is not money or technology”, she said. “It is entrenched prejudice and discrimination by society against girls and women.”
In the general debate that followed, delegates agreed that tomorrow’s demographic trends depended on today’s policies, outlining measures their Governments were taking to fulfil commitments under the Programme of Action. Going forward, they urged addressing the population-related aspects of the post-2015 agenda, notably by increasing opportunities for women and girls.
In other business, the Commission elected Katsuhiko Takahashi ( Japan), Nino Shekriladze (Georgia) and Jens Ole Bach Hansen ( Denmark) as Vice-Chairs of its forty-seventh session. Mr. Takahashi was also appointed as Rapporteur. The Commission then adopted its agenda and organization of work, as well as the report of its Bureau on its intersessional meetings (E/CN.9/2014/2 and E/CN.9/2014/2/Add.12), introduced by the Chair.
John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on world demographic trends (document E/CN.9/2014/3).
Kwabena Osei-Danquah, Executive Coordinator of the International Conference on Population and Development Beyond 2014 Coordination Secretariat, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the Framework of Action for the follow-up to the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development Beyond 2014 (document A/69/62), as well as a related summary containing the findings and recommendations of the operational review mandated by General Assembly resolution 65/234.
Also speaking today was the Vice-President of Colombia.
Ministers and other senior officials of the United Kingdom, Brazil, China, Uruguay, Germany, Netherlands, Indonesia, Switzerland, Japan, United States, South Africa, Mauritania, Bolivia (on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China), Oman (on behalf of the Arab Group) and Benin also addressed the Commission.
Representatives of the following countries also spoke: Kenya (on behalf of the African Group), Ghana, France, Russian Federation, Costa Rica, Greece (on behalf of the European Union) and Kenya (on behalf of the African Group).
Representatives of World Youth Alliance, German Foundation for World Population, Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights also spoke.
The Commission on Population and Development will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 8 April, to continue its forty-seventh session.
The Commission on Population and Development began its forty-seventh session this morning, under the special theme “Assessment of the status of implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development”. It will run from 7 to 11 April.
Before the Commission were reports of the Secretary-General on world demographic trends (document E/CN.9/2014/3); the framework of action for the follow-up to the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development beyond 2014 (document E/CN.9/2014/4and Corr.1); and programme implementation and progress of work in the field of population in 2013 (document E/CN.9/2014/5).
Also before it were the report of the Bureau on the Commission’s intersessional meetings (documents E/CN.9/2014/2 and Add.1) as well as several reports of non-governmental organizations. A functional subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council, the Commission monitors, reviews and assesses national, regional and international implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, and advises the Council accordingly.
JAN ELIASSON, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that most maternal deaths occurred in poor countries. “As global citizens, we must not tolerate preventable deaths when we have the means to stop them,” he said. The landmark 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development marked a major turning point in the historic push for people-centred development, placing individuals’ rights and dignity at the heart of development and setting forth an agenda for inclusive, equitable and sustainable development. Over the past two decades, the agenda had contributed to significant advances. Fewer people lived in extreme poverty. Gender equality and women’s empowerment were gaining ground worldwide. More people were living longer, healthier lives. More girls were in school. Fewer women were dying in pregnancy and childbirth. There were more laws to protect and uphold human rights.
Still, the continued exclusion of some groups and the potential risk for serious environmental damage put those gains at risk, he said. Changing age, household and family structures as well as rapid urbanization and migration posed new challenges for human development. “We have an urgent responsibility to invest in creating opportunities and a supportive environment for innovation and entrepreneurship for persons of all ages, particularly young people,” he said, stressing the need to invest in their health and education and to review laws, standards and practices that restricted their full participation in and access to sexual and reproductive health services.
The Review of the Cairo Programme of Action had revealed strong commitment among Member States to promote and protect sexual and reproductive health and rights and to free societies from all forms of discrimination and violence, including harmful practices such as early and forced marriages and female genital mutilation. Beyond 2014, the Programme of Action had advanced a new vision for addressing population and development challenges through important lenses of dignity and human rights, health, security, governance, accountability and sustainability. The findings of the Review of the Programme showed a broad consensus among Member States on key issues, as reflected in the negotiations on regional action plans.
PAULETTE BETHEL ( Bahamas), delivering remarks on behalf of JOHN W. ASHE ( Antigua and Barbuda), President of the General Assembly, said this year marked the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Programme of Action at the historic International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in Cairo in 1994. Today, there was widespread agreement that more work was needed to ensure the Programme’s goals were fully realized, and the Commission on Population and Development was charged with assessing implementation.
The ICPD beyond 2014 Operational Review and the Secretary-General’s report attested that much had been achieved since 1994, she said, but persistent gaps and barriers had delayed the achievement of dignity and well-being for all. The Review offered “ample” evidence that the full realization of human rights was a driver for sustainable development. While poverty had significantly fallen in recent years, progress had been uneven within and among countries and continents. Further, progress towards gender equality and empowerment of women and girls was, despite some gains, “slow and uneven”.
She noted that the world had more young people than at any time in history. A fast-growing share of older people in the population called for flexible labour markets, intergenerational solidarity and social protection. Good health, education and lifelong learning led to social and economic dividends for societies. As well, universal access to sexual and reproductive health, and reproductive rights, allowed women to stay healthy and make choices on the number, spacing and timing of their children.
“We need to ensure that the consensus reached in Cairo in 1994 and in subsequent reviews are fully integrated into the post-2015 development agenda and the new sustainable development goals,” she declared. Deliberations were underway in the Open Working Group to finalize recommendations on those goals.
WU HONGBO, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, recalled that the Commission’s session preceded the special session of the General Assembly in September — an event that would renew the high-level commitment to the Conference’s goals and define work for the years to come. Noting that the new development agenda should take into account the findings of the 20-year Review, he said the priority themes of Cairo had already reverberated in discussions of the Open Working Group on questions of health, gender equality and population dynamics.
The Operational Review had provided data and analysis on population issues, he said, and on how Governments had handled them in their policies and plans. The world had seen much positive change in people’s health and well-being in the last two decades and the Commission had much to celebrate for its contributions. Yet, challenges remained as new realities had emerged. Nearly one billion people still lived below the poverty line of just over one dollar a day. Income inequalities and disparities in education and health had persisted — even worsened — within many countries.
On the demographic front, the world faced “unprecedented” diversity, he said, as many developing countries continued to experience high population growth, and countries with low fertility saw their populations stabilize or even decline. “Governments need to plan for the developmental consequences of population trends before they unfold,” he said, stressing that they could influence population trends through rights-based policies that expanded individual choices and opportunities. Indeed, population patterns were linked to poverty reduction and the promotion of well-being, he said, and the Programme’s goals continued to provide crucial guidance in addressing today’s development challenges.
Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said in the past 20 years the world had seen vital advances in implementing the Cairo Programme of Action. Today, girls around the world were able to learn about and have control over their bodies, stay in school and find work when they were ready, all to the benefit of them and their societies. Since the Cairo Conference, there had been gains in poverty reduction, girls’ education, maternal and child mortality, access to sexual and reproductive health services. But they masked significant and growing inequalities that had prevented those most vulnerable from realizing their human rights. Cairo was part of a forward-moving agenda at the United Nations in the 1990s to empower women and girls. “While we have moved forward, there is still much to do,” he said.
Gender discrimination remained, he said. Poor urban and rural women alike continued to lack access to family planning and other services. More than 200 million women who wanted family planning have no access to it. He pointed to the plight of young girls who were married off to older men they did not know, at a price. “They don’t tell her story, because they are invisible,” he said. One in three births in developing countries was not registered. With a lack of protection, it was impossible for such girls to exercise their rights. It was necessary to look at the gaps in the Cairo Programme of Action in order to bring the promise of the early 1990s to all. The review of the Programme found that gender-based discrimination had great cost to society. Early marriage led to early pregnancy, closing the door to education, life skills and opportunities, and creating risks for health and perpetuating the vicious cycle of poverty and exclusion. When multiplied, that put global development at risk.
Fistula was a failure of society to look at the health and the right of young girls, he said. “Fistula tells us that we failed in a sense to enable them to obtain their full potential,” he said. Everyone must stand up and say no to violence against young girls. Up to 50 per cent of all sexual assaults on girls were committed against girls under age 16. One out of every nine girls was married before turning age 15. Nine of ten pregnancies took place in the context of early marriage. Every year, 8.7 million women aged 15 to 24 resorted to unsafe abortions. “We cannot shy away from these issues anymore, change must come,” he added. Girls must have control over their own bodily integrity and be able to determine the number of children they wanted and the timing of having them. By bridging individual dignity and rights, it was possible to achieve a sustainable future. He called on delegates to use the current session to push forward the Cairo Programme of Action. “Let’s make history together,” he said.
Macharia Kamau (Kenya), speaking on behalf of the African Group, recalled that clear parameters had been set for the themes of the Conference and that the Group was willing to engage within them. Given the lack of consensus within the Bureau on the nature of the outcome, more efforts should be made to reach agreement, especially on sensitive issues. Recalling that draft resolutions should only be submitted to States after regional perspectives had been incorporated, he noted with concern that the Chair had submitted a draft despite the lack of consensus within the Bureau, setting “a dangerous precedent” that undermined the spirit of multilateralism.
He said that decision had been communicated to the African Group during a 14 March briefing, when the Chair had informed of his intention to submit a procedural resolution. On that basis, the Group had decided to engage in discussions. However, the circulated text was of a different character. “This has come as a surprise”, he said. He expected the Chair to keep his promise, regretting that the Chair had designated co-facilitators of the resolution without having obtained full consensus. He expected due consideration to be given to Bureau consultations. Nonetheless, the Group would participate in the session in the most constructive manner.
Chair GONZALO KONCKE ( Uruguay) said that seeking common denominators would be his goal, as well as that of the Vice-Chairs. “That is how we wish to conduct the work of the Bureau, and I think this has been done,” he said, noting that no Commission in the past had held so many Bureau meetings: six formal meetings and one informal one. The representative of Senegal, as the alternate Chair, and the Rapporteur would also work in that direction. He had taken due note of the representative of Kenya’s statement.
He then introduced the report of the Commission’s intersessional meetings, which he had chaired.
NAFIS SADIK, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, then gave a keynote address on “Dignity and Human Rights within the Context of the ICPD beyond 2014”. She said the Cairo Programme of Action’s main goal of ensuring sexual and reproductive rights remained elusive. It had noted the burgeoning need for food production, energy and fresh water. For the least developed countries the difference between the median and low-income population would be 66 million by 2020 and grow to 200 million by 2050. Tomorrow’s demographic trends depended on today’s policies. It was vital to promote human rights. As the perceived value of the girl child grew, families would invest more in them, helping to combat poverty over the long-term. Sexual and reproductive health programmes were more likely to be effective when they were respectful of women’s and girl’s privacy. Individual choices and opportunities must be enlarged for women and children.
It was not enough to plan for the needs of the 200 million women that lacked access to reproductive healthcare today, she said. Policymakers must look at the needs of girls coming of reproductive age. By 2030, the need for family planning alone would increase by 40 per cent. But some 1.4 billion people still lived in extreme poverty today; efforts to end it had not been sufficient to match population growth. The total gross domestic product (GDP) of the world’s 10 poorest countries was only slightly greater than the net worth of the world’s wealthiest individual. Such income inequality had a destabilizing effect on society as a whole. The number of women dying during childbirth and pregnancy had fallen more than half since the Cairo Conference. Still, the goal of universal access to family planning remained elusive. Enormous challenges remained in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, in terms of managing population growth. Despite robust economic growth in South Asia, gender inequality was widespread. Most of the poorest women had little education and no access to modern contraception. Up to half of all girls in least developed countries were married while still children. They faced the consequences of giving birth at an early age and appalling reprisals if they attempted to change their lives.
Unsafe abortion now killed an estimated 47,000 women every year, she said. While maternal mortality had fallen considerably, the number of unsafe abortions had not. The conditions existed today for an extensive discussion on changing the legal status of abortion. Women were in a stronger position to speak up. Abortion, however, remained a highly sensitive matter. Contraception was neither universal nor perfect. Increases in gender-based violence and rape increased the need for intervention. Even when they married, girls did not know how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy. Countries must confront those facts. “Countries must do whatever is possible for women in an impossible situation,” she said, adding that “good sexual and reproductive health was the foundation for everything else”. That included education, health, human rights, well-being, economic advancement and sustainable development.
“The biggest single obstacle to better public health is not money or technology, it is entrenched prejudices and discrimination by society against girls and women,” she said. She asked how any cultural value could justify female genital mutilation, rape in the home and a lack of education. Those were not cultural values; they were the means by which one group subjected another. The voices of men and boys were needed to achieve gender equality. Men in leadership positions must speak out on sensitive subjects like abortion, so-called honour killings, girls’ education and girls’ ability to make their own decisions concerning their reproductive health.
The representative of Ghana, commenting on that presentation, pointed to the “biosocial” gap in girls’ transition to women, saying that in Africa, polyandry was practised legally in some places. Men tended to support men’s welfare, but not women’s welfare. As such, men won; women lost. Maternal mortality remained high in sub-Saharan Africa. The centrality of women’s development must be emphasized again. When addressing abortion and abortion policy, one must do so with compassion. A 10-year-old girl that had been raped should not be forced to carry a pregnancy to term. “Are we victimizing the victims even further?” he said, asking what kind of culture would deny an abortion to a girl raped during war. “Let’s give women and girls their full rights, their right to humanity,” he said.
The representative of Egypt asked, “Are we really serious about human rights?” What was happening to women and girls constituted a crime against humanity, a matter that should be taken seriously, as their subjugation and discrimination could not continue. For its part, Egypt recently had drafted a new constitution that abolished an article referring to female genital mutilation. “The bad customs should go, and we should keep the good customs,” she said.
Noting that she had been on the committee that had drafted the constitution, she said the issue now was whether the men responsible for decision-making would allow it to be enforced. While pleased with the achievements made, there were many injustices to be abolished. Inhumanity against women must be addressed in all human rights meetings. Economic growth could not be sustained if women were always poor, illiterate and faced violence. Women should have the right to decide about their own bodies.
ANGELINO GARZÓN, Vice-President of Colombia, said the Cairo agreements were valid and must be fully complied with, as they were “there to be met”. Colombia was making progress towards a comprehensive human rights and humanitarian policy, he said, reiterating his Government’s commitment to social inclusion. Public policies could not be neutral. They must have face of a woman, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, young people, girls, boys, migrants and others. Colombia had formulated gender equality policies and supported a goal on sexual and reproductive rights in the context of the post-2015 agenda. It also had mobilized investment in young people and early childhood, and supported “active ageing”.
LYNNE FEATHERSTONE, Minister for International Development of the United Kingdom, said the International Conference had recognized that sustainable development could not be achieved if half the population was left behind. Investing in the health of women and girls was at the foundation of their empowerment. Yet, there was too much resistance to the notion that women and girls must decide what happened to their bodies. Her Government was committed to working with all partners to enhance sexual and reproductive rights for all. Neither gender nor sexual orientation could be the basis for discrimination, she said, supporting the Africa-led movement to end female genital mutilation. Such issues must be addressed, as they had not received enough attention since the International Conference.
ELEONORA MENICUCCI DE OLIVEIRA, Minister for State of Policies for Women of Brazil, said the global review of the Cairo Programme of Action showed there was a long way to go to end discriminatory laws and guarantee equality for all citizens. It showed that maternal deaths from abortion-related complications could be reduced by expanding access to quality and non-discriminatory post-abortion care, and that adolescent pregnancy posed high risks to the mother’s and child’s health and was the leading cause of school dropouts in Latin America. Special attention was needed for key issues directly linked to women’s health and autonomy, such as comprehensive sex education and sexual and reproductive health rights. Implementing the Programme was a priority for Brazil. The Brazilian National Committee on Population and Development aimed to help form national policy and implement population and development strategies. Its work plan was guided by the 2013 Montevideo Consensus. The Committee had carried out studies on the relationship between population and development, and on strengthening the agenda on sexual and reproductive health and rights, youth, poverty eradication and early childhood, as well as on addressing racism and international migration.
CUI LI, Vice-Minister for National Health and Family Planning Commission of China, said that exclusive focus on population growth was in the past. In the future, the world’s population would encounter great complexities, including; enormous regional disparities in fertility rates, ageing populations in developed countries, an increase in the scale and scope of immigration and rapid urbanization coupled with unprecedented ageing in Asia and Africa. She emphasized the need to address the enormous gap in implementing the Programme of Action and called on all national Governments to make new commitments at the highest level. Greater attention needed to be paid to the link between population dynamics and sustainable development, while population issues needed to be addressed in a comprehensive manner. Universal access to reproductive health and family planning services was critical and sound partnerships needed to be developed with non-governmental organizations and the private sector.
LEONEL BRIOZZO, Vice-Minister for Health of Uruguay, said Latin America had achieved deep social transformations, with the present context of economic growth and improved distributions offering an opportunity to eliminate imbalances. The normative framework was favourable to the principles of the International Conference. The region’s growth rate had slowed due to the demographic transition, which was marked by a drop in fertility. The region’s life expectancy had increased to 75 years. Child mortality had fallen since 1950, with 19 deaths annually per 1,000 live births. Seeking ways to avoid unsafe abortion was a moral obligation, he said, urging an end to the criminalization of that practice.
URSULA MÜLLER, Director General for Policy Issues and Political Governance of Bilateral Development Cooperation, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany, reaffirmed her Government’s strong support for the Programme of Action. The protection of young people from early or unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases should be a universal priority. Noting that 800 women died in childbirth daily, she said realizing sexual and reproductive health among the most vulnerable groups was a priority for Germany, as it considered it a prerequisite for sustainable development and poverty reduction. She urged providing comprehensive sex education and linking HIV/AIDS to sexual and reproductive health strategies.
Lambert Grijns( Netherlands) said that his country had been able to achieve one of the lowest abortion rates in the world by providing access to modern contraception and investing in sexual education for young people. In this regard, the Netherlands supported recommendations for countries to revise existing restrictive and punitive abortion laws. Sexual and reproductive health and rights were human rights that needed to be protected. Given that the world now had the largest population of young people in history, efforts needed to be made to ensure that they had universal access to integrated sexual and reproductive health information and services. Child, early and forced marriages, as well as female genital mutilation, were in violation of young women’s and girls’ rights, depriving them of their health, education and opportunities. It was important to engage men and boys, as they played a crucial role in ending gender-based violence and realizing gender equality.
ALEXIS LAMEK ( France) said despite progress in achieving the Cairo Programme of Action, the world was far from achieving gender equality. Still, more than 220 million women lacked access to modern contraception, leading to 80 million unwanted pregnancies and 20 million unsafe abortions, of which 50,000 resulted in death each year. Since 1994, the number of unsafe abortions was on the rise, and, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), would continue rising. Those risks could be averted by guaranteeing everyone access to reproductive health services. Young peoples’ access to sex education, gender equality education and abortion were part of the Programme of Action. They must be implemented. Abortion must be decriminalized. The year 2015 should mark a decisive turning point for human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights. Such rights must be promoted, guaranteed and implemented.
FASLI JALAL ( Indonesia) said that now that the world had reached 7.2 billion people, the international community needed to look at how it could build and improve efforts to address population growth, based on lessons from the past 20 years. It was more crucial than ever to strengthen the linkage between efforts to address rising inequality and opportunities with measures to manage population at all levels. Family planning programmes remained a key measure to stabilize population growth, particularly in developing countries. However, Indonesia noted with concern the unequal distribution of allocated funding for various programmes. The same concern also goes toward the relatively small funding allocation for programmes on basic reproductive health, which was important for efforts to reduce maternal mortality rates. Issues of migration, urbanization, disabilities and population ageing should be better reflected in the future population and development agenda.
MARKUS SCHWYN, Head of Division, Federal Statistics Office, Switzerland, said the 2014 discussions were important for drawing up the post 2015-development agenda. The review documents generated a large amount of vital data. Switzerland hosted in July 2013 the regional conference on implementing the Cairo Programme of Action. The results of the operational review process reflected the state of progress achieved in 20 years. The plan’s approach was delivering results. But there were major inequalities and exclusions. He noted new challenges in the past 20 years that required new ways to address trends in mortality, ageing and urbanization. It was crucial that efforts focused on comprehensively achieving the Programme’s aims and that everyone was guaranteed health care, particularly sexual and reproductive rights and health. It was not acceptable that 800 women still died daily due to childbirth-related complications. He stressed the importance of having available data and technologies to collect data. In Switzerland, since 2010, a modern statistics system had enabled swifter socioeconomic advancement.
TOSHIKO ABE ( Japan) said the key to addressing population and development issues was the empowerment of women and their greater participation in decision-making at all levels of society, particularly since they often took the leading role in raising children and looking after ageing parents. To promote women’s empowerment, her country planned to assist developing countries’ effort to increase girls’ participation in society and provide vocational training. Japan would also support female farmers, especially small-scale farmers and entrepreneurs in Africa. Domestically, Japan enjoyed the longest life expectancy of any country in the world, which when coupled with a very low fertility rate, resulted in one out of four persons in Japan older than 65 years old. Japan believed its universal health coverage, which started in 1961, played an important role in achieving the remarkable health and longevity of its people.
PAVEL FONDUKOV ( Russian Federation) said the strategies agreed 20 years ago remained relevant, with resolution 65/234 establishing that the Programme of Action should not be revised. Population issues should be integrated into sustainable development goals. It was counterproductive to focus on “doubtful” concepts that contradicted the social values of groups of countries. Attempts had been made to introduce terminology into the global socioeconomic agenda, and the sustainable development goals, including supposedly established terms, such as sexual rights and gender identity. He urged collective efforts to outline an approach for determining tasks related to global demographic changes. His country was not bound by commitments to introduce into schools programmes aimed at comprehensive sexual education. It also did not support the establishment of a monitoring mechanism to assess the implementation of the Programme of Action.
MARGARET J. POLLACK, Director, Multilateral Coordination and External Relations Bureau of Population, Migration and Refugees, Department of State of the United States, said the International Conference had reframed how to view population and development challenges. The Programme of Action had called for nothing less than comprehensive reproductive and sexual health services, reductions in child and maternal mortality and the achievement of gender equality. The Operational Review had shown that many had been left behind due to poverty, discrimination, human rights violations, or situations of conflict or humanitarian crisis. It also showed that common perspectives on interventions were held, including the promotion of human rights, universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, and the elimination of all forms of gender-based violence.
ZANE DANGOR, Special Advisor to the Minister for Social Development, South Africa, welcomed UNFPA’s review and the Secretary-General’s report on the follow-up to the Cairo Programme of Action beyond 2014. He noted the huge strides in the past 20 years, but that much remained to be done, particularly in Africa, despite great efforts. Huge gaps remained and progress had been uneven. The regional process in Africa had culminated in the Addis Ababa Declaration at this year’s African Union regional summit. Guaranteeing the human rights of everyone was indispensable. It was vital to reaffirm access to all sexual and reproductive rights, post-abortion care and services, emergency contraception, and diagnostics and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. There must be universal access to HIV treatment, prevention and support. The so-called controversial issues must be discussed, debated and resolved in order to achieve the goals set in 1994.
AHMEDOU HADEMINE JELVOUNE, Minister for Health, Mauritania, said his country had participated in the 1994 Cairo Conference and subsequent conferences. It had taken important steps to attain the Cairo goals and the Millennium Development Goals. In June 1995, it adopted the first national declaration on population policy, which was updated in 2005 and 2012, in line with the Cairo Conference’s aims. Mauritania adopted a strategic framework for advances in education, literacy, health and nutrition. Special attention was given to the poor, youth, the disabled and women. Women won 21 per cent of parliamentary seats in 2013. He noted considerable progress to combat HIV/AIDS and malaria. Mauritania made a national declaration in 2012 on population, taking into account the Cairo Programme of Action and based on the 2013 Addis Ababa Declaration.
CLAUDIA PEÑA, Minister for Autonomy of Bolivia, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that population issues must continue to be addressed in a comprehensive manner, as an integral part of economic, social and cultural development. The Group underlined that sustainable development required that the interrelationships between population, resources, the environment and development be fully recognized and properly managed. At the International Conference on Population and Development 20 years ago, 179 States agreed to make collective efforts to achieve universal access to education and reduce infant, child and maternal mortality. Although the Conference had a positive impact on poverty eradication and economic development, considerable challenges and gaps remained.
She noted that while some regions in the developing world witnessed a substantial decline in maternal death, others had made little improvement. A fully functional, efficient and quality health system with universal coverage was essential for the realization of the Programme of Action beyond 2014 and the Millennium Development Goals. Greater access to education for young girls in developing countries was imperative given its strong correlation with reducing unwanted pregnancies. The Group called on the international community to give priority attention to the plight of those living under foreign occupation, forced displacement and armed conflict. The Group further reaffirmed the call for the elimination of laws with political objectives that discriminated against migrants and resulted in the trafficking of persons, as well as unsafe and unregulated migration.
SAUL WEISLEDER (Costa Rica), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, urged Governments to recommit at the highest political level to the Programme of Action. Supporting the mandate of the International Conference beyond 2015, he said population dynamics and migration must be considered in the formulation of the new development framework.
While citing several gains in his region, he said maternal health was lagging, gender pay inequity persisted, and reproductive rights were not enjoyed by vulnerable women. He urged improving women’s access to education, health services, employment, social protection and economic empowerment. Every country had the right to apply recommendations of the Programme of Action and the Montevideo Consensus in line with its national laws and development priorities. He urged strengthened cooperation with regional and international development agencies, such as UNFPA, as well as among subregional entities and groups.
AMER HIAL AL-HAJRI, Minister Plenipotentiary of Oman, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, reaffirmed some principles of the International Conference, such as sovereignty, and urged scrupulously respecting ethnic and community values, taking into account national laws and priority development plans. His delegation would contribute towards consensus on social concepts, while taking into account national legislation, as outlined in the international human rights framework.
In that context, he stressed the need for strategies that enabled all Arab countries to have a space where they could achieve their goals, while taking into account their cultural, economic and social features. Studies regarding Arab countries must be developed upstream, which required both a technical approach and financial resources. He expressed concern vis-à-vis regional difficulties, such as the deterioration of Palestinians’ economic and social situation, due to the policies of Israel aimed at introducing demographic changes. He hoped it would be possible to draw up a balanced draft resolution that took into account the religious and cultural features, and specificities of national legislation.
Michel Spinellis ( Greece), speaking on behalf of the European Union, expressed his commitment to fully implementing the Beijing and Cairo action plans and the outcomes of their respective review conferences. He welcomed the holistic approach and strong focus in the Secretary-General’s reports on human rights and evidence-based research. The global report’s findings showed that the Cairo Programme of Action had led to tangible progress. Since 1990, skilled birth attendance had increased by 15 per cent globally; more women had access to education, work and political life; more children attended school; and fewer adolescent girls were giving birth. The Union had provided considerable support in the past 10 years in education, health, clean drinking water and sanitation for millions. Migration and mobility posed challenges for managing urbanization. Urgent action was needed to prevent increased homelessness and slum dwelling.
Despite progress toward gender equality, in the poorest communities women and girls still faced discrimination and violence, including female genital mutilation, early and forced marriage, and maternal death, among other concerns, he said. Approximately 140 million girls and women worldwide were subjected to female genital mutilation. One in nine married before the age of 15, becoming mothers by age 16. Pregnancy and childbirth were the leading cause of death among adolescent girls in developing countries. This was unacceptable. Common efforts and resources must be focused on areas and regions where progress toward achieving the Cairo and Beijing aims and the Millennium Development Goals was slow, with a special focus on least developed countries and fragile States. The European Union would continue to support countries’ efforts to ensure higher accountability systems, as well as strive to create a more systematic framework to monitor progress and achievements.
Mr. KAMAU ( Kenya), speaking on behalf of the African Group, reiterated that the goals and views of the Cairo Programme of Action remained relevant today and beyond 2015. Despite progress toward universal primary education, improving maternal health, reducing infant mortality and preventing HIV/AIDS, huge implementation gaps remained. The youth was Africa’s future. Nearly 65 per cent of Africans were under the age of 35. Ensuring their social welfare was vital for sustainable development. Policies had been put in place to turn the continent’s youth into a great demographic dividend. But financial and technical challenges remained to ensure youth development programmes. Access to health-care professionals during and after pregnancy remained low in Africa. More than half of the 358,000 maternal deaths worldwide each year occurred in Africa. Universal and equitable access to affordable quality healthcare was critical for safe maternal health.
Gender equality and women’s empowerment remained critically important for poverty education and sustainable development, he said. More efforts in education were needed to achieve gender parity at all education levels and to improve women’s access to credit and extension services, as well as sexual and reproductive health services. Women’s empowerment was vital in key areas such as agriculture, industry and services. The full, effective implementation of the Cairo action plan’s aims was vital. He reaffirmed the sovereign right of each country to implement the plan consistent with national laws, priorities, cultures and values, and in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
MARCEL DE SOUZA, Minister for Development of Benin, associating with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said his country had a law that aimed to end female genital mutilation, as well as others on sexual and reproductive health, prevention of and care for HIV/AIDS and ending sexual harassment. Further, Benin was among the nine African countries that might achieve Goal 5 (maternal health). It had hosted a 2012 regional conference on youth, which allowed for young people’s participation in a global forum. Benin also faced diverse challenges, including quality human resources to support inclusive development and gearing the educational system towards employment opportunities.
FERNANDO VIAL, World Youth Alliance, said direct interventions needed to help every woman and baby experience safe pregnancy and childbirth were within reach for developing countries. In that context, he called for access to skilled birth attendants, at least four prenatal care visits, minimally equipped birthing facilities with essential medicines and equipment to treat major pregnancy complications, and health-care delivery infrastructure, including education, that empowered women to make appropriate health decisions.
A representative of the Germany Foundation of World Population said Member States should implement laws for the promotion, respect and protection of reproductive health and rights. They should repeal laws that criminalized abortion. She stressed the need for universal access to sex education. There must be a focus on youth and adolescents, which deserved special attention and increased resources for their health, education and empowerment. She stressed the need for clear commitments for women’s and girl’s equality, the right to be free of discrimination and violence, and the need for accountability.
A representative of Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights said young people were regularly denied access to sexual and reproductive rights, including family planning, abortion and sex education. That was due to discriminatory and punitive laws, harmful norms, violence and stigma. Young people were hopeful that Member States would continue to take action at the highest level to implement the Cairo Programme of Action.
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