Delegates called for finishing “the unfinished business” of promoting and protecting women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights, as the General Assembly today concluded its high-level meeting commemorating the twenty‑fifth anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development.
Sharing experiences alongside expectations for the forthcoming Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, to be held in November, representatives spotlighted the gains made over the last quarter of a century since 179 nations signed the landmark Programme of Action in Cairo at the close of the International Conference on Population and Development in 1994. The Programme of Action made a critical link between population, development and human rights, including reproductive rights, calling for advancing women’s empowerment through improved access to education, employment and quality reproductive health care.
“We need to deliver on the promise we made in Cairo 25 years ago,” Martin Bille Hermann (Denmark) said, emphasizing that promoting and protecting women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights are crucial for their well-being and dignity, which are key factors in sustainable development and economic growth. “It is time to finish the unfinished business” for the sake of women and girls and for the benefit of all. To do this, he continued, “we need the Nairobi Summit to be a success”.
Other delegates agreed, anticipating that the Nairobi Summit will advance commitments made in the political declaration adopted by the Commission on Population and Development in April, as well as the Programme of Action’s goals.
Dmitry S. Chumakov (Russian Federation) commended gains made since Cairo, but pointed out that the Nairobi Summit would be a platform for sharing experiences and not result in a binding outcome document.
Some delegates reiterated their delegations’ positions on reproductive health issues, including Austin Smith (United States). Noting that his country is the largest bilateral donor to supporting maternal and child health programmes, helping to save millions of lives around the world, he said the United States does not recognize abortion as a method of family planning.
John Kyovi Mutua (Kenya) said his delegation expected strong commitments and outcomes from the Nairobi Summit with a view to addressing unfinished business and highlight the “three zeros”: zero unmet needs from family planning; zero preventable maternal deaths; and zero sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls. “Only by realizing the promise of ICPD shall we achieve the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said.
Among the Programme of Action’s most significant achievements, some delegates stressed, was its marked departure from the existing discussion on “controlling population growth” through a target-based approach. In doing so, it succeeded in shifting the emphasis of population policies to improving the lives of individuals, particularly women, to induce demographic changes, delegates said, citing examples from their own countries.
In this vein, Paulomi Tripathi (India) said a belief underlying that new emphasis is that enhancing individual health and realizing other rights would ultimately lower birth rates and slow population growth. For its part, India, with one sixth of the current global population, has made rapid strides in eradicating extreme poverty, strengthening partnerships for sustainable development and launching the world’s largest health-care programme, reaching 500 million people. It has also developed the most widespread sanitation and hygiene initiative, which aims at making the country open-defecation-free by October. Policies spawned by the Cairo consensus continue to evolve and guide action to address challenges arising from demographic dynamics even today, she said.
Dian Triansyah Djani (Indonesia), providing a snapshot of national achievements, said the Programme of Action has guided Government policies, which have yielded positive results. The fertility rate has dropped from 5.6 children per woman in the 1970s to 2.4 children in 2017, reductions have been made in maternal mortality, stunting and malnutrition among children, and partnerships have seen the exchange of knowledge, best practices and experience involving 104 countries. However, despite global achievements, much still must be done, he said.
Samuel Victor Makwe (Nigeria) agreed. “We are convinced that for every additional year of schooling a girl attains, the chance of early childbearing decreases, and with it lessened maternal mortality, as well as greater lifetime income to combat poverty,” he said. Reiterating Nigeria’s conviction that the Programme of Action is a critical enabler of implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he called on Member States to take steps to link population control with sustainable social and economic development.
At the same time, representatives emphasized the importance of bilateral, regional and global partnerships in advancing Programme of Action objectives. Some delegates, including the representatives of Cuba and of El Salvador, said the Cairo action plan and the Montevideo Consensus should continue to shape national development policies.
Also delivering statements were representatives of Ecuador, Madagascar, Bulgaria, Liberia, Chile and Maldives.
The General Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 19 July, to consider the report of the Peacebuilding Commission and take action on a draft resolution on follow-up to the outcome of the Millennium Summit.