RESURJ Statement on the Outcomes of the 49th Commission on Population and Development

Measuring what you treasure: Going beyond conventional data collection

The 49th Commission on Population and Development (CPD) took place in New York from the 11th – 15th of April 2016. The Commission negotiated two resolutions this year, one on methods of work and the other on ‘Strengthening the demographic evidence base for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.’ They were both agreed upon by consensus. 

From a procedural perspective, the Commission this year saw a smaller number of member states participate with a political atmosphere that was more congenial in nature. Unlike the CPD in 2015, which ended with no outcome document, a greater number of states were willing to constructively engage in negotiations, as was reflected in their closing statements, in order to ensure that an outcome document was adopted. The Permanent Representative of Zambia to the United Nations played a strong role as Chair of the Commission, with support from the Vice Chair, Sierra Leone and Germany, guiding small group negotiations to effectively address common areas of concern between member states that included proposals on language. These were then brought to plenary for broader discussion and consensus. Several member states and civil society alike, commented that the final outcome document reflected a good balance, where no country either won or lost completely, which was widely endorsed. The productive and largely positive management and outcome of the Commission was a welcome response to the opening statement of John Wilmoth, the Director of the United Nations Population Division who noted that the commission was “broken and in need of fixing” in his address to member states. Reaching consensus on both resolutions serves as a good indication that the Commission, although facing challenges, remains relevant as we move forward with the Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development and ICPD Beyond 2014. 

The Commission efficiently reached consensus on the resolution outlining the “Future Organization and Methods of Work of the Commission on Population and Development,” on Thursday, April 14th. In the resolution Member States committed to ensuring the central role of the CPD in monitoring the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action (PoA) at national, regional and global levels. Despite challenges and strong opposition, governments reached consensus in reaffirming ICPD’s key actions for its further implementation, and outcome of its reviews conferences. There was resistance from the African Group during the negotiations to the inclusion of the regional outcomes from the ICPD+20 reviews in both the thematic and methods of working resolutions. However, states reaffirmed the PoA and its key actions for further implementation, taking note of regional review conferences as key to providing guidance to each region in this context. Significantly, states also recognized the role non-governmental organizations and other civil society play in contributing and actively participating in ICPD implementation in both a perambulatory (PP9) and an operational (OP9) paragraph in the Methods of Work Resolution. 

In the thematic resolution adopted, RESURJ welcomes the increased willingness of delegations to receive contributions from civil society representatives to the text and the efforts by member states to work with them. The valuable contributions of non-governmental organizations and other civil society actors are reflected in both resolutions, as is the role civil society plays in implementing the ICPD Programme of Action. OP28 of the thematic resolution also acknowledges women and youth groups in particular in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the PoA of the ICPD and the key actions for its further implementation. Member states reinforced a call of action to governments and the UN to further advance meaningful youth leadership in this context and to “actively support increased capacity and participation of young people in the use of population data, taking into account gender equality and representation of youth of various backgrounds, to contribute to the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of, as appropriate, international, regional, national and local development strategies and policies that affect young people” (OP30).

Despite the traditional opposition from some countries, including members of the African Group, Qatar, Russia and Iran among others to include explicit reference to human rights, the paragraph reaffirming “the promotion, protection and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all (PP9)” is also noted as a key win at this year’s commission, which is also reinforced in PP12 in the context of empowering women and girls to realize their human rights and opportunities “without distinction of any kind,” and “the need to address persistent inequalities and discrimination on any grounds.” Although this does not go far enough to explicitly recognize violations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, reaffirming the human rights of all and recognizing the need to address blatant inequalities, human rights violations and discrimination must be tirelessly repeated and acted upon until all people can live free from such violations. 

The final outcome document also calls on member states to respond more effectively to evolving global public health emergencies and vector borne diseases such as Zika, with two references in the final text. PP17 calls attention to the impact of vector-borne diseases on women, children, adolescents and youth, recognizing the need for public education and sensitization and health services. In this context we also welcome OP24, which urges governments to strengthen health systems and recognizes the need to address non-communicable diseases, mental health and wellbeing and ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services. 

The heightened need for “the availability of high-quality, accessible, timely and reliable disaggregated demographic data (OP25)” is also reinforced in the text. OP 27 stresses the importance of “strengthening of capacity for data collection at the local and sub-national levels.” OP26 expands this to include the need to strengthen the capacity and role of South-South partnership and key actors for the implementation of the 2030 agenda and ICPD PoA and its key actions for further implementation, including academia, small and medium enterprises, government officials and relevant civil society stakeholders. Member states also committed to “the importance of the collection, analysis and dissemination of population data and statistics disaggregated by income, sex, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts for policy formulation by all countries (PP22)” which is key to ensuring key population groups are not left behind.

Additionally, OP13 recognizes the importance of collecting, analysing and disseminating data on a varying set of issues impacting gender equality and the human rights of women and girls including in the areas of “unpaid care and domestic work, labour force participation and other social and economic status, and participation and leadership in political and economic life and the core set of violence against women and girls indicators adopted by the UN Statistical Commission in 2013, including on harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.” Contextualizing the need for data collection, analysis and dissemination from a gender perspective within these issues is an important lens for advancement in the Commission in its on-going discussions on data and demographic strengthening and its application for policy development and program delivery. 

RESURJ welcomes the focus on adolescents and youth, which is strong across the outcome document. We are particularly pleased with OP14 which highlights the need for data collection, analysis and dissemination on adolescents and OP15 which is a long overdue reference calling attention to governments to “collect, analyze and disseminate data on women and girls between the ages of 10-14 and over age 49, with due consideration to the confidentiality principle and professional ethics, to fill critical data gaps, and inform effective policy development.” This is supplemented with the recognition in OP16 of “the importance of accessible, timely and reliable disaggregated qualitative data to complement quantitative population data” considered “essential for evidence-based policy development, monitoring, review and follow-up.” Such approach to data on adolescents, particularly adolescent girls, is critical to ensure consistent and accurate information on birth rates and early adolescence pregnancies and should include access to education/enrollment/retention rates, forced labor, adolescent trafficking and data on child, early and forced marriage to inform a more comprehensive understanding of the status of adolescent girls in countries. The focus on collecting data over the age of 49 is also critical to ensuring the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women outside of their reproductive years. 

A number of proposals for inclusion in the text that could have strengthened the adopted resolution overall but were not welcomed by some member states. Language proposed on Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) put forward by the Philippines was ultimately removed from the final chair’s text. This stands in contrast to commitments made at both the ESCAP and the Montevideo Consensus on Population and Development and is rooted in agreed language from CPD 2012. A strong push from the EU, Norway, Australia, Cuba, Switzerland, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Republic of South Africa and the US for the inclusion of specific language on gender responsive data collection was expressed during negotiations as well as in the closing remarks of the CPD. Due to orchestrated opposition from the African Group, Russia, Qatar, Egypt and Iran, the final text includes a weak call to states to be “mindful of gender perspective” in data collection (OP25) instead of collecting gender responsive data. 

In the UN adage of ‘measuring what you treasure,’ it was heartening to see the Commission adopt a positive outcome document that is inclusive of changing contexts. It also recognizes that key gaps in realizing ICPD’s vision persist and that they must be addressed both through a continued effort to deliver on ICPD but also in the implementation of the SDGs. Moreover, given the lack of specific attention to adolescents in the goals and targets of Agenda 2030, RESURJ considers the recognition of the challenges adolescents and youth face and the call for data collection, analysis and dissemination on women and girls ages 10-14 to be an important reference for all countries embarking in the process of nationalizing the 2030 Agenda and the global indicators framework. Now, we just need these commitments translated into action so we can see change happen where it matters most – the local level.