By Nelly Lukale, Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Champion, YWCA of Kenya
Following a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly on the follow-up to the International Conference on Population and Development “ICPD Beyond 2014”, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) undertook an operational review of the implementation of the Programme of Action (PoA) on the African Continent. The ICPD was first held in 1994 in Cairo with the purpose of linking population issues with development. It declared that gender, education and health, including reproductive health, were areas important for balanced development. The conference adopted a Program of Action and set specific goals to reduce infant, child and maternal mortality, universal access to reproductive health; and provide universal education.
An African Regional Conference to review evidence of progress, challenges, gaps and emerging issues in relation to the achievement of the goals set out in the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) took place in Addis Ababa Ethiopia from 30th September to 4th October 2013. The conference was expected to chart a new course to scale up its efforts, and establish new ways of approaching population issues.
African youth met for a two day pre-conference before the main conference and set out their priorities. The forum brought together Ministers of youth, youth leaders, UNFPA senior staff and other youth groups from different countries that work with adolescents and youth to review progress, challenges and key human rights issues for youth. It was organized to create a platform for dialogue and sharing experiences so as to make recommendations on the post International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD beyond 2014).
These recommendations will eventually feed into the regional intergovernmental conference on ICPD in Africa, for the next twenty years. The youth discussed a number of important issues including sexual and reproductive health and rights, education, youth employment, family planning and maternal mortality as well as inclusive participation, security and governance. They called upon their governments to ensure there is actual fulfillment of promises on youth matters and programmes. They also appealed for more investment and allocation of resources particularly for rights-based health interventions for young people, who account for the overwhelming majority of the continent’s population.
I was privileged to attend a two day Advocacy in Practice (AiP) workshop organized by International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) and other partners. This is a workshop that is held in advance of any important regional conferences or UN negotiations. It gives participants the opportunity to take what they have learned into practice and action. It was an intense two day event that helped participants strengthened their skills to effectively advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights at the national and international levels.
Over 20 young women and youth activists from Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Liberia, and Zambia participated in this AiP. Participants identified priority areas that needed to be included in the final document such as ensuring the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and adolescents, including access to safe and legal abortion, modern contraception, comprehensive sexuality education; ending harmful cultural, traditional, and religious practices such as female genital mutilation and early and forced marriage; eliminating gender-based violence, including marital rape and intimate partner violence; and ending violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The activists also wanted to ensure that governments are held accountable for promoting and protecting the rights and health of their citizens. The AiP partners were present at the main conference tweeting live and also keeping a close eye on the government negotiations and how they addressed the critical issues and recommendations from youth and CSOs.
Civil society organizations who also had a two day pre-conference and came up with recommendations called upon governments to ensure there is comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and it should be freely available through the primary health care system, accessible to all without discrimination, and provided in a way that respects human rights, including the rights to privacy, confidentiality, informed consent, and bodily integrity.
With only a few months left to the end of the ICPD PoA; many of the promises to young people set out in Cairo remain unfulfilled. Millions of girls and women worldwide are still without adequate sexual and reproductive health services and universal access to comprehensive sexuality education for young people is yet to be delivered. It’s noted that Equal access for the youth to health, education and economic opportunities doubles the potential for development and helps societies to break the cycle of poverty which is still prevalent in Africa. Young people still do not have seat at most decision-making tables and there is need for inclusion of the youth in decision making as it is the best way to address their issues. Governments should emphasize on inter-generational leadership hence promote age and gender balance.