By Nelly Lukale, YWCA of Kenya. Nelly recently attended the UN 47th Commission on Population and Development at the UN in New York and shares her views about her experience.
Finally it is here!! My dream to attend the United Nations Commission on Population and Development (CPD) in New York has finally come!! I sang, danced and said a thanksgiving prayer as I got ready for one of the biggest events in the World. I was privileged to attend CPD at the UN Headquarters in New York that was held from 7 to 11 April, 2014. This was the 47th session of the Commission on Population and Development. The commission is an annual conference that monitors, reviews and assesses the implementation of the agreements made at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, Egypt. These agreements are set out in the Programme of Action (PoA), which is a rights-based development framework. The theme of this year’s CPD session was ‘Assessment of the status of implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development’. Basically, this means not only evaluating on what happened so far, but also looking forward. Twenty years on, it is again time to review how far the international community has come with implementing of the Programme of Action.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) every year 85 million unintended pregnancies occur. More than half of these unintended pregnancies lead to an abortion; a quarter of which are unsafe abortions. WHO research shows unsafe abortion results in 47,000 deaths and 5 million women are left with a disability every year. If only governments implemented what they had signed for and committed in 1994, then this could have been prevented. Many unintended pregnancies would not have occurred when people, especially young women are able to receive comprehensive sexuality education and have access to effective contraception, and are able to use it. We need to understand that criminalising or restricting legal access to abortion does not decrease the need for abortion. In contrast, it is likely to increase the number of women seeking illegal and unsafe abortions, leading to increased mortality and morbidity.
The highlight of my CPD participation was attending a side event with the theme “Celebrating Cairo & Going Beyond”. This was an event organised by the High Level Task Force for the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and co-hosted by several governments, including Argentina, Brazil, Finland, Germany, Liberia, Mexico, Mozambique, Slovenia and South Africa. It featured remarks from U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA. Navi Pillay asked the audience to envision a world where all women and girls have easy and equal access to health care, where women can choose when and how many children to have, and where every woman and girl can participate in decision-making processes for her country. To realise this world, we must fully realise the sexual and reproductive health and rights around the world. She also stressed that “at CPD this week, we are working with governments and civil society organisations to ensure that these rights are realised moving forward, both in the CPD outcome document and in the larger post-2015 development agenda. We must be strong enough not to lose ground on the ICPD Programme of Action. We must be courageous by continuing to fight for important women’s health issues, such as safe and legal abortion. And we must think creatively to come up with innovative ways for women and girls to easily access life-saving reproductive health services”.
With ICPD PoA coming to an end in few months, many questions still remain unanswered in my mind; do the countries of the world move beyond sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights; will they include the sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) terminology? And can we get recognition for young people as people with their own sexual and reproductive health needs? Still with high hopes of all these being answered in the CPD outcome document that we are all anxiously waiting for.
Throughout the week of CPD plenary sessions, it was clear that Member States are emphasising their national progress in achieving the so-called “sexual and reproductive health and rights” over progress achieved in protecting the family unit, proper sanitation, access to clean water, and basic healthcare for all, including reproductive health and maternal health. What was more amazing at this year’s CPD is how civil society organisations (CSOs) worked extremely hard to make text suggestions to strengthen the first draft document. Many of them reached out to their ministries and country delegation, and asked attention for sexual and reproductive health and rights issues.