Speakers Say Commitment to Address Their Needs Should Guarantee Their Reproductive Rights, while Others Warn against Legitimizing Abortion
Addressing the needs and rights of today’s youth must be at the heart of the post-2015 development agenda, the Commission on Population and Development heard today as it continued its session, with some speakers declaring that young people should be both the chief beneficiary and the driving force behind the new plan.
It was crucial to “remain steadfast in our commitment to address the needs and rights of adolescents and young people,” said the representative of the United States, among the many speakers who called attention to the unprecedented demographic shift — a greater number of young people today than at any point in history. She said young people’s participation must be ensured in discussions and decisions that affected them and which would ultimately set the course of global health and population growth for generations to come.
Several delegations underscored the importance of guaranteeing young people their reproductive and sexual rights. France’s representative said that given the largest generation of young people the world had known, it was important to reduce teenage pregnancy and implement strategies to combat traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation and child marriage, and to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Her country’s strategy on population, sexual and reproductive issues made the right to sexual and reproductive health for young people a priority.
The representative of Cuba said that women and girls were systematically deprived of their rights and means to take full control of their lives. Stressing lack of access to contraception, underage marriage and illiteracy, she said that promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment must be central to the post-2015 agenda.
Sharing national experiences, many speakers presented ways in which their countries had worked to advance the rights of youth and incorporate their needs into public policies. El Salvador’s representative said a reform of its health sector allowed the provision of sexual and reproductive health services for youth in order to empower them, help them break barriers and ensure their inclusive development.
Similarly, Panama’s representative, underscoring that prioritizing the young began at birth, said her Government had guaranteed comprehensive care for children up to age 3 through early stimulation and child and family centres. She affirmed that youth, as custodians of the future, must be included in the social dialogue and guaranteed quality education and decent employment opportunities.
Noting that 54 per cent of his country’s population was below the age of 25, India’s representative said that its youth policy recognized the potential of a “demographic dividend”. As part of the country’s commitment to gender equality, women’s empowerment and combating gender-based violence, laws had been enacted and amended to ensure the safety, security and well-being of women and girls.
Malta’s representative recognized the importance of enabling women and young girls to make informed and responsible decisions, but said, however, that since the right to life extended to the unborn child, his country reaffirmed its right to oppose any recommendations that could in any way create an obligation on any party to consider abortion as a legitimate form of reproductive health or rights.
Following the general debate, Suzana Cavenaghi, researcher and professor at the National School of Statistical Science/Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, delivered a keynote address on reproductive health, gender and sustainable development. Since gender issues included sex differences and roles and gender-based inequalities, she said, they should not only involve women and girls, but also should also explicitly include men.
She said sustainable development must be all-inclusive and take into account population dynamics and inequalities between men and women, including in the exercise of their sexual reproductive health and rights. Stressing that segmented agendas and rights were not fruitful or sustainable, she said the future called for a balanced agenda that integrated human rights with the economic, social and environmental aspects of development.
Also participating in today’s debate, including at the ministerial level, were representatives of Sri Lanka, South Africa, Israel, Bangladesh, Switzerland, Ukraine, Poland, Bolivia, Russian Federation, Chad, Nigeria and Zambia.
The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow to continue its work.
ROSY SENANAYAKE, Minister of State for Child Affairs of Sri Lanka, said that progress in the country depended on the ability to enable women and young people to actively participate in the development agenda. Yet, while women constituted half the population, they represented only 34 per cent of the labour force. Migrant women workers, including in the plantation and export processing sectors, brought the country significant foreign exchange earnings. However, a majority worked in the informal sector. The Government was committed to making the necessary legal and structural investments to bolster a decent work agenda in marginalized sectors. Family planning had been integrated into maternal and child health services and a scheme had been introduced to provide a monthly nutritional supplement to all pregnant women. Even so, the problem of unsafe abortions and unintended and teenage pregnancies remained. Strengthening reproductive education would increase awareness about contraceptive use. As Sri Lanka emerged from 30 years of conflict, over 23.4 per cent of households were headed by women. A national committee and centre on female-headed households had been established to help them integrate into the workforce. Women must be able to control their reproductive choices and go to work without fear of violence or coercion.
BATHABILE DLAMINI, Minister for Social Development of South Africa, associating with the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said that while tremendous progress had been achieved towards the realization of the 1994 Cairo Programme of Action, challenges to inclusive sustainable development remained and could only be met if the international community was committed to a rights-based development process, as that would fulfil, promote, and respect, in an integrated manner, civil, political, economic and cultural rights and result in people’s holistic development. Such a human rights-centred approach should focus on reproductive justice wherein women’s rights were guaranteed and their choices supported through appropriate policies. Her Government had committed to provide services that sought to fulfil and realize women’s rights, especially their reproductive and sexual health and rights.
RON PROSOR (Israel) said that “when we empower individuals, we strengthen entire societies.” As no nation should face the overwhelming challenges of development alone, for over 50 years, his country’s scientists, doctors, engineers, teachers and other professions had shared their expertise with other nations. Since its establishment, MASHAV — Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation — had trained close to 270,000 professionals from 132 countries. One of the agency’s programmes in Ghana was “Tipat Chalav”, which is Hebrew for “drop of milk”. The Tipat Chalav clinics had first been developed for mothers and children in Israel and provided free health and medical services for pregnant women, infants and children. They had proven highly effective in reducing child mortality and improving maternal health. His country was also committed to sharing its expertise in innovation and entrepreneurship to assist people living at the margins of society. Further, it was expanding the field of venture philanthropy — businesses that turned a profit while providing opportunities for disadvantaged populations, from high school dropouts to adults with disabilities.
ZAHID MALEQUE, Minister for Social Development of Bangladesh, spoke of the progress made by his country since its independence, noting that it was regarded as a role model for development in the fields of health, education, women’s empowerment, food security, migration, climate change adaptation, social safety nets, and the elimination of discrimination. Proper health care was provided for citizens regardless of their social position, location or caste, through 13,000 community clinics, and the literacy rate had grown from 20 per cent in the early 1980s to the current 60 per cent, through compulsory primary education — free up to the secondary level. Gender equality was being addressed through job quotas among other measures. The country provided social security to 24 per cent of the poverty stricken and could derive dividends from its young population by providing them with health services, education and food and job opportunities. Rapidly urbanizing, with some 32 per cent living in urban areas, the nation was developing facilities to control rural migration. Bangladesh was food sufficient and had adopted the Cairo Programme of Action.
MARGARET POLLACK (United States), noting that women, girls and gender equality were at the heart of the country’s global health agenda, said that ensuring that women and girls participated on an equal footing with men and boys would be among the most transformative goals of the post-2015 development agenda. She advocated for a dedicated goal in that regard. Further, the Financing for Development Conference in July was a key moment to reinforce the commitment to gender equality. “We must also remain steadfast in our commitment to address the needs and rights of adolescents and young people,” who represented a significant proportion of the world’s population, she said. Their participation must be ensured in discussions and decisions on issues that affected them and which would ultimately set the course of global health and population growth for generations to come. She noted the importance of working with Governments to improve demographic data collection and analysis and strengthen the capacity of civil society to participate in that regard, including the material’s application at all levels.
MICHAEL GERBER (Switzerland) said no country had achieved gender equity despite the commitments in the Beijing Platform for Action. The feminization of poverty and growing inequalities within countries required the international community to further invest in inclusive sustainable development that overcame the gender gaps. His country would continue to promote gender equality, both internally and through its foreign policy. Noting that migration had been a strategy for individuals and their families to overcome poverty, escape conflicts, react to economic and environmental shocks and strive for a more prosperous future, he said that migration and development were an integral part of the Swiss foreign policy on migration. It was also a strategic priority of the Swiss international cooperation policy. In addition, his country addressed migration comprehensively in partnership with other countries and cooperated in efforts to combat human trafficking, protect migrants’ rights and build the capacities of relevant stakeholders.
MARIELA CASTRO ESPIN, Member of Parliament of Cuba and Director of the National Center for Sex Education, associating with the Group of 77 and China and CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), said that as the post-2015 development agenda would affect the lives of people for years to come, it must address population dynamics and development in a holistic way and be consistent with the Cairo outcome. Additionally, key measures would have to be set out for its implementation. Among the main challenges, she said that women and girls were systematically deprived of their rights and means to take full control of their lives. Stressing lack of access to contraception, underage marriage and illiteracy — two-thirds of the world’s adult illiterates were women — she said that promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment must be central to the new agenda. As for Cuba, she described inclusive policies that had led to women becoming a majority in such fields as science and technology, education, health care and university graduates. Women led 10 of 15 provincial governments and held 48.6 per cent of parliamentary seats, ranking fourth worldwide. Despite international crises affecting the Cuban economy and the blockade imposed by the United States, social assistance and security remained universal, unemployment continued to decline and life expectancy was close to 79. Further, Cuba contributed medical assistance and training of people from 157 countries. She urged a just, inclusive and equal economic and financial world order.
YURIY SERGEYEV (Ukraine) said that illegal political and military involvement in the eastern part of his country had resulted in growing numbers of internally displaced persons, currently at over 1 million people. His country, therefore, channelled all available resources to the improvement of local social protection services in insurgent-stricken regions. Under those challenging circumstances, strengthening social protection had never been more urgent, especially in developing national strategies on integration, relocation, response and recovery. It was mobilizing resources to facilitate the socioeconomic integration of such persons, for which it had allocated funds from the State budget. Focused on the most vulnerable groups, his Government was working with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to assist it in responding to the social and economic issues faced by internally displaced persons; in particular, to enable their free and open access to all available social services.
DANIELLE BOUSQUET (France) said there was a clear link between sustainable development and human rights, particularly those of women, adolescents and young people. However, violations of the rights of women and girls were widespread, with some 142 million young girls married before the age of 18 and 30 million at risk of female genital mutilation over the next 10 years. Further, discrimination and violence against people due to sexual orientation could no longer be tolerated. France’s strategy on population, sexual and reproductive issues for 2015-2020 made the right to sexual and reproductive health a priority for adolescents and young people, particularly in West Africa and the Sahel, the country’s priority area for development aid. With the greatest generation of young people the world had known, it was important to reduce teenage pregnancy and implement strategies to combat traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation and child marriage, and to prevent unwanted pregnancies. While France promoted and supported access to safe and legal abortion, its assistance concentrated on cost-effective methods such as sex education and contraception. Public development aid should focus on people aged 12 to 24 to promote more inclusive societies. As young people were affected by everything included in the post-2015 agenda, they should be its primary beneficiaries.
KARLA VANESSA LEMUS DE VASQUEZ (El Salvador), associating with the Group of 77 and China and CELAC, said her country’s efforts in building a post-2015 development agenda and meeting the aims of the Cairo Programme of Action would be reflected in a national report to be published this month. Noting the importance of including population issues in the sustainable development agenda, she stressed that people with various needs must be at the centre of that process. The national five-year 2014-2019 development plan aimed to make hers a country that was fair, prosperous, united, and inclusive. Indeed, El Salvador had undertaken a reform of its health sector and governance of health system leading to the establishment of policies, laws and instruments that sought to improve the public health system. Sexual and reproductive health was provided to women and youth in order to empower them, help break barriers and ensure their inclusive development. Women should have free access to those services to enable them to decide on their future, have better opportunities and in turn provide an improved quality of life for their families and the country.
ALINA POTRYKOWSKA (Poland), associating with the European Union, said that Poland was facing serious demographic problems, such as low birth rates with high mortality rates, which were expected to result in a 1.3 million reduction in population by 2030. That was further aggravated by negative changes in the population’s age structure, labour shortages, decreased security of the social security system and mass economic migration by young Polish citizens. To address those challenges, the Government had undertaken initiatives to enhance the capacity of those aged 50 and over and to subsidize the cost of life-long learning for those over 45. In addition, while Poland’s Constitution guaranteed the equal status of women and men, non-discriminatory legislation had been significantly supplemented over the last decade and, more recently, work was under way to empower and support women’s independence. Reproductive health was an important part of State health policy, with a programme to provide citizens free access to such procreative methods as in vitro fertilization with equal access for couples experiencing male or female infertility. There were also programmes to achieve better work-life balance. She stressed the need for innovation, which required increased spending on research and development, and noted the implementation of a State ecological policy for sustainable development since the country’s social and economic transformations.
MANUEL CANELAS (Bolivia), associating with the Group of 77 China, CELAC and the Montevideo Consensus, said that while there had been progress in the situation of women in his country, much remained to be done. Currently, women held 50 per cent of legislative positions, deputies and senators. That had been made possible owing to efforts made by women with the assistance of the Government. While that approach had led to some violent reactions, the Government had implemented laws to address violence and, in particular, domestic violence against women. Recognizing, however, that such steps were not sufficient, his country would continue to work to ensure equal conditions between men and women, the strong and the weak, and the rich and poor.
CHRISTOPHER GRIMA (Malta), associating with the European Union, said responsible action on a broad range of issues that underpinned sustainable development had become even more urgent. Poverty eradication and sustainable development with the ultimate aim of improving people’s lives should be at the top of the post-2015 agenda. Malta underscored the importance of addressing population issues as well as the needs of the vulnerable members of society, particularly persons with disabilities. Human rights issues, such as justice, equality, good governance, democracy and the rule of law, should have a strong focus on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Malta was committed to the promotion of sexual and reproductive health and recognized the importance of the dissemination of knowledge to enable women and young girls to make informed and responsible decisions. However, as the right to life extended to the unborn child, Malta reaffirmed its right to oppose any recommendations that could in any way create an obligation on any party to consider abortion as a legitimate form of reproductive health or rights.
IGOR KHARITONOV (Russian Federation), noting that population should be both the chief beneficiary and the driving force behind the post-2015 development agenda, commended the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals for addressing the cost-cutting nature of demographic issues running through the goals. The Russian Federation’s demographic policy through 2025 aimed to overcome the demographic crisis of the 1990s, stabilize the situation and create the conditions needed to regulate it. Among the areas being addressed were reducing mortality, strengthening overall and reproductive health, creating conditions for a healthy lifestyle, strengthening the traditional family, and improving support to families for birth and child rearing. Noting the work of Brazil, the Russian Federation, India, China and South Africa on population issues, he said a seminar on the matter would be held in Moscow in 2016. Realizing the post-2105 agenda would, to a large extent, depend on timely response to demographic challenges. To that end, it was ever more urgent to establish indicators. To do so, the Statistical Commission should rely on the Cairo Programme of Action, which provided balanced guidance for national demographic policies and, in concert with the Commission on Population and Development, should formulate clear universally agreed indicators. The Cairo Programme should not be re-reviewed, but should serve as a political framework and guiding rules for the Organization’s work.
LAURA ELENA FLORES HERRERA (Panama) said there were three issues absent in the debate: early infant stimulation, youth and the demographic dividend, and the elderly. Eradicating poverty required investment in early infant stimulation to help further develop brain and enable an individual to achieve his full potential. Her Government guaranteed comprehensive care for children up to age 3 through early stimulation and child and family centres. The Ministry for Social Development also had a network programme in its national development approach to involve families living in poverty and to guarantee social and educational services for them. On youth, she noted the demographic change in recent decades and added that, as custodians of the future, they must be included in social dialogue and guaranteed quality education and decent employment opportunities. On the elderly, she said the number of people over the age of 60 had increased in all regions and, thus, Governments must adopt public policies to fully include those individuals as they age.
BHAGWANT SINGH BISHNOI (India), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said inclusion was a special challenge and responsibility for India, given its vast social, regional, and economic diversity. Reducing poverty was a key element in the country’s inclusive growth and development strategy with a renewed focus on girls’ education. Stepped up investment in health systems and innovative interventions had led to increased life expectancy, increased rates of child immunization, and a substantial decline in under-five, neo-natal and maternal mortality rates. With 54 per cent of India’s population below the age of 25, India’s youth policy recognized the potential of a “demographic dividend”. Laws and been enacted and amended to ensure the safety, security and well-being of women and girls as part of the country’s commitment to gender quality, women’s empowerment and combating gender-based violence.
SUZANA CAVENAGHI, researcher and professor at the National School of Statistical Science/Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, reviewed the terms sustainable development, reproductive health and gender, discussed the Cairo Programme’s monitoring and the sustainable development goals, and addressed issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender, providing an assessment of the current situation against the backdrop of the global diversity.
Noting that gender issues encapsulated sex differences and roles, as well as gender-based inequalities, prejudice and discrimination, she stressed that gender issues should not only address women and girls, but should also explicitly address men as well. Turning to sustainable development, she said it should be all-inclusive now and in the future and would only be possible under a complete change in behaviour. Achieving sustainable development and eradicating poverty required consideration of population dynamics and inequalities between men and women, including in the exercise of their sexual reproductive health and rights.
She said the first step was to integrate agendas and initiatives and to learn from the past. While the Millennium Development Goals failed to fully include sexual and reproductive health and rights, the sustainable development goals should include gender-specific goals beyond education and also explicitly include men. The continuation of the Cairo agenda should not be reduced to sustainable development goals, targets and indicators; the agenda must follow its own implementation and monitoring and also address environmental problems.
Also in the context of monitoring implementation of the Cairo outcome, another step was to consider targets and indicators for the sustainable development goals that addressed sexual and reproductive health and rights. Noting that better indicators required better data, she said enormous international differences must be faced regarding the quality, timeliness, and appropriateness of data and in the financial and human resources to produce it in each country. It was urgent to work on the interoperability of all data systems so that countries with huge amounts of data could be linked to get better results for evidence-based research and policy design.
Using graphs and charts and presenting country-specific information, she said indicators could be used to monitor some unresolved issues, including differences in access to reproductive health services according to the level of development and socioeconomic status between and within countries; high levels of adolescent birth rates; the “unwanted fertility rate”; unsafe abortions where legally banned; high levels of maternal mortality; and practices that run contrary to the free expression of sexuality.
Turning to gender issues, she said that despite undeniable progress, challenges remained. Women’s labour market participation must be further improved. Men still did not participate fully in domestic labour. Progress in increasing women’s participation in decision-making had been slow. Gender reversals such as in education had taken place in some countries, while gender balance required that neither sex was left behind. Also, there had been setbacks in several countries in recognizing the rights of families and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender communities. Despite laws enacted to combat violence against women, the incidence was rather high in some countries and implementation of such laws had been slow.
Stressing that sustainable development was not synonymous with consumerism, she said that, together, the Cairo plan and the post-2015 agenda should build a world where women and men could fully deploy their potential in the productive and reproductive spheres of life, without discrimination or violence. Segmented agendas and rights were not fruitful or sustainable. The future called for a balanced agenda that integrated human rights with the economic, social and environmental aspects of development.
In the ensuing dialogue, Cuba’s representative, expressing concern that there were a number of established goals and indicators that had not been clearly defined or measured, asked how the international community could ensure its efforts were sustainable and how it could address unresolved major population and development issues.
Brazil’s representative remarked that it would be interesting to have data on female Heads of State and Government in the future, which would point to interesting trends in the world and their region. He also asked whether more recent data could be made available as information from 2006 was relatively unhelpful for what countries were trying to accomplish with the post-2015 agenda.
In response, Ms. Cavenaghi said there was an initiative to embrace a “data revolution” and interoperability of data systems to get better indicators. As data was sometimes difficult to obtain, models were used.
Chad’s representative asked what was lacking in the sustainable development process. If the international community was not on the right path, he asked what must be done ensure that sustainable development took into account environmental and economic considerations. He also sought clarification on the gender parity in government alluded to by Brazil’s representative as well as the lack of women’s participation in politics, referred to by Ms. Cavenaghi.
Nigeria’s representative said he was interested in the issue of women overtaking men and asked about its implications going forward. While men had been “on top” for a very long time, he pointed out that perhaps such a rebalancing should be viewed as an achievement.
On the environment, Ms. Cavenaghi said that while the issues were known, the challenge was determining how to address them, as policies had not yet been put in place to achieve sustainable development in economic and social areas. Also critical was responsible consumption. On the question of women in politics, she said therein lay a paradox. While 10 per cent of the Brazilian parliament was occupied by women, a gender law in fact reserved 30 per cent of its seats to women. Much remained to be done to increase women’s participation in politics. On the idea of women overtaking men, she said she was glad that women were being educated. She was not interested in the creation of “UN Men”, she simply wanted to see equality.
The representative of Zambia said that the Millennium Development Goals had provided good indicators, but much more was needed for the post-2015 agenda. Addressing the quality of indicators, she cited as an example that the unmet need for contraception was a good indicator for programmes, whereas total unwanted pregnancy rates spoke more to policy. She added that the Statistical Commission was helping her country develop indicators.
Responding, Ms. CAVENAGHI said that the unmet need for contraception was a good indicator, but was not always properly measured, as it was often only based on married women, rather than on all who were sexually active. She agreed that some indicators were problematic and more properly suited to policy and that consideration should be given to the most appropriate way to make use of specific indicators.
Summing up, LAKSHMI PURI, Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, encouraged a timeframe for gender equality and women’s empowerment, which should be set to enable work to start from the endpoint and work backwards to determine the best way to get there. Noting that “you measure what you treasure”, she said it was important to find the right indicators to measure. She also stressed the importance of investment in the data revolution on both the financial and human resource sides. That was of particular importance for the international community with the approaching Conference on Financing for Development. The three key issues, she said, were sustainable development, gender equality and sexual and reproductive rights.