RESURJ Statement on the 20th Anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development
Last week, the United Nations held a “High Level Meeting” to commemorate the 20 year anniversary of the groundbreaking International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo. Twenty years ago, it was groundbreaking because it amassed world leaders who committed to approaching population and development policies placing women’s health and our human rights at its center. Last week’s commemorative meeting failed to replicate this spirit and momentum, even after considerable resources were spent in countries, regionally and globally to galvanize political will and commitment to this end.
It is clear to us that the discourse of sexual and reproductive health and rights has become more mainstream. However, this does not mean that women’s sexual reproductive rights are being fulfilled, far from it. There is still a long way to go before we can say that we have achieved the Cairo goal of universal access to reproductive health and protection of reproductive rights.
Out of 192 countries that make up the United Nations, only 90 countries submitted statements on September 22, 2014, and even fewer read their statements out loud because the session ran out of time. Of these statements, only a handful reported on their countries’ progress and commitment to achieving gender equality and women’s human rights, with specific references to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, protection of human rights in this regard, and a mention of comprehensive sexuality education and safe abortion services where legal. The Gambia, South Africa, Cuba and Iceland adequately referred to the implementation of Cairo in their countries and the challenges for achieving sexual and reproductive health and rights in the years ahead. Peru, Brazil and Cook Islands also had very strong statements, but these were not delivered during the meeting and merely published online afterwards. The remaining country interventions were devoid of any real substance or real understanding of the paradigm shift that the Cairo Programme of Action even was, and few spoke beyond a simple recommitment to the Programme of Action. Only a handful mentioned access to contraception, maternity care, HIV and safe and legal abortion, as well as comprehensive sexuality education, as critical for ensuring sexual and reproductive health and rights.
The commemorative event indicated that most governments, twenty years after the ICPD Programme of Action was agreed, largely ignore it in their programmatic development goals and financial planning. So women’s and young people’s movements from around the world shall continue to advocate for the spirit of Cairo as well as take it forward. We will continue to remind governments of their international commitments to ensure that population and development planning efforts truly prioritize sexual and reproductive health and rights- both politically and financially. It is clear that the struggle continues, and that the work needs to continue to happen at both international and national levels to hold governments accountable for realizing sexual and reproductive justice for all.