By Thalif Deen
Ottawa, Canada, Oct 23 (IPS) – The international community will be commemorating two milestones in the history of population and development next year: the 50th anniversary of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the 25th anniversary of a Programme of Action (PoA) adopted at the1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo.“Let’s use these important benchmarks to launch accelerated action – together. Starting here in Ottawa,” UNFPA Executive Director Dr Natalia Kanem told a gathering of over 150 parliamentarians from more than 60 countries who were meeting in the Canadian capital to review the progress made in several key socio-economic issues on the UN agenda, including reproductive health, maternal and infant mortality, family planning, female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage, women’s empowerment and gender equality.
She said this is a time to reflect on some fundamental questions.
‘Have we done justice to the vision that world leaders articulated nearly 25 years ago in Cairo? What have we achieved? Where is progress lagging? For whom? Why is it that life-saving sexual and reproductive health and rights interventions come into question time and again?”
She pointed out that the world has made great progress in recent decades, as reflected in impressive declines in maternal deaths and child marriage rates.
Fewer women around the world are dying in pregnancy and childbirth. More women are using modern contraception. More girls are in school.
“Yet, more than 200 million women and girls are still waiting for modern contraception. And every year, there are still nearly 100 million unintended pregnancies,” said Dr Kanem.
And over 300,000 women die during pregnancy or childbirth every year while tens of thousands of girls continue to be married off every day—in child marriages. And the global epidemic of violence against women and girls, including the violence of female genital mutilation (FGM) persists, she warned.
Marie-Claude Bibeau, the Canadian Minister of International Development, who played a key role in hosting the Parliamentarians’ Conference, which concluded October 23, said her country is committed to lead the discussion on gender equality– and welcomes the present conference as a key stepping stone towards hosting the “Women Deliver Conference” in 2019.
“Canada firmly believes that if we want to maximize the impact of our actions and help eradicate poverty, we must passionately defend gender equality and the rights of women and girls so they can participate fully in society,” she added.
To this end, Canada has fully committed itself to mobilise global support for the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls.
Both are key commitments in Canada’s “Feminist International Assistance Policy”.
As a vibrant discussion followed, Martha Lucia Micher, a parliamentarian from Mexico,
drove home the point that “women’s bodies were being politicized”.
Senator Catherine Noone of Ireland said some of those who opposed legalizing abortions in her country offered a convoluted theory that men will resort to more sex if abortion was made legal.
Dr Kanem said it was an outrage that so many women and girls have so few choices.
“Let’s turn outrage into action. Choice can change the world! Let’s expand rights and choices for all. This is key to gender equality and the only way to advance the ICPD and 2030 agendas.”
Meanwhile, UNFPA has its own ambitious aims for the 2030 deadline of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):
• Zero unmet need for family planning,
• Zero preventable maternal deaths and
• Zero gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls (including child marriage and female genital mutilation).
“And our actions towards these three zeros will be grounded in quality population data and evidence.”
“The 2020 census round is an important piece of this puzzle, and we are ramping up our preparations. When everyone is counted, we can identify and reach those still being left behind. That includes millions of women and girls,” she added.
Paying a tribute to parliamentarians, she said: “Your commitment to the principles and goals of the ICPD Programme of Action paves the way for further progress. Your defence of human rights, including reproductive rights; of gender equality; public participation and democratic principles are vital.”
“As parliamentarians, you have the power to transform the voices of your people into concrete action. You have the power to make a real difference. I appeal to you to protect the precious mandate that you share with UNFPA. Our women, girls and young people deserve no less,” she declared.
By Thalif Deen