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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

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New York, 12 October 2009 - Secretary-General's remarks at General Assembly Commemoration of the 15th Anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development

Excellencies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are here today to commemorate a watershed event.

The 1994 Cairo Conference marked a major shift in the international mindset on population issues.

Countries from around the world affirmed that population, far from being about numbers, is about people -- and that women's health, education, employment and empowerment are the keys to a sustainable future.

The Cairo Conference grappled with some of the most sensitive issues of our day – and achieved a consensus.

Nearly 180 governments agreed to put gender equality, reproductive health and reproductive rights at the centre of development.

They acknowledged the importance of universal education, especially for girls.

They recognized the need to prevent the unnecessary deaths of infants, children and mothers.

And they stressed the need to make sure that all people who want reproductive health care can get it.

Participants also agreed that women and girls will never be empowered unless we eliminate violence against them and ensure that they can control their own fertility.

The Conference was a shining example of what the United Nations does, like no other organization in the world: be a pioneer in addressing global challenges, and bring governments together to set international goals that go further than many countries would on their own.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Fifteen years ago in Cairo, for the first time, governments acknowledged that every person has the right to sexual and reproductive health.

Today, we meet to hail the progress that has been achieved? to acknowledge the many problems that remain? and to strengthen our resolve to overcome them.

Fifteen years ago, fewer than half of all women used modern contraception. Today, more women and couples – 56 per cent, up from from 47 per cent – can choose if, when and how many children to have.

Fifteen years ago, seventy-one out of every one thousand babies died during their first year of life. Today, that number has been cut to 51 per thousand.

Fifteen years ago, fewer than half of all women giving birth in developing countries had skilled health personnel to help them. Now, more than 60 per cent receive this life-saving assistance.

The international community has worked hard for this progress. I especially want to pay tribute to the United Nations Population Fund for its tireless advocacy and invaluable activities.

But as we all know, despite these efforts, for far too many people the Cairo consensus remains more a goal than a reality.

Some two hundred million women still do not have access to safe and effective contraception

Too many women resort to abortions that are not safe, because they lack access to family planning.

In too many countries, girls are still married off as child brides.

The dangerous practice of genital mutilation and other harmful traditions continue to have a terrible impact.

Sexual violence, especially during conflict, continues to victimize women on a mass scale.

And the number of deaths from childbirth – a staggering toll of more than half a million women each year – has not changed since the Cairo Conference.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have a clear plan to address these problems: the ICPD Programme of Action.

The Programme is critical to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

It is especially important for goal number five: to cut maternal mortality and achieve universal access to reproductive health care.

Progress on reaching that target has been slower than on any other.

Maternal health is linked directly to a country's health system. When we improve maternal health, all people will benefit.

To fully carry out the Cairo Programme of Action means providing women with reproductive health services, including family planning. It means backing poverty-eradication initiatives. And it means preventing rape during wartime and ending the culture of impunity.

All of these actions require funding.

This may be a time of global financial turmoil and economic downturn, but it is not a time to renege on our promises to protect and invest in women – for their sake and for the sake of our collective future.

I am personally committed to doing everything possible to empower women – here at the United Nations and around the world.

I call on all development partners to join me in recommitting to the Cairo Programme of Action until all of its promises are fulfilled.

Thank you.


Statements on 12 October 2009