Celebrating Cairo & Going Beyond

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.

Nelly Lukale

Nelly Lukale

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.

Late Nights, Heavy Heart – ICPD 2014

By Hendrica Okondo, World YWCA Global Programme  Manager for Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights and HIV. Hendrica recently led the World YWCA delegation at  the UN 47th Commission on Population and Development at the UN in New York and shares her views about the commission.

We had a hectic, exhausting and interesting week as we stayed at the United Nations Headquarters daily beyond midnight; the chair frequently broke up the negotiations because there were too many civil society organisations (CSOs) in delegations and threw out all the experts on the two last days. Saba Haile, General Secretary of the YWCA of Kenya and Vanessa Hoyti, from the YWCA of Tanzania who were in the negotiation room said the Holy See representative was even joking about having to have the usual objections on the usual paragraphs.

Hendrica Okondo

Hendrica Okondo

The week started on Friday April 4th, 2014 with the High Level Interactive Debate, where member states outdid themselves giving very positive statements and commitment to stand by their regional outcome documents. Former Egyptian ambassador Ms. Mervat El-Tallawy, stated that the democratic government is back and proud to promote and protect the spirit of Cairo and “will not let the women who came out in great numbers in Cairo down”, she stressed that they would support the Addis Ababa Declaration and that all rights including sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) would be protected. Mrs Viola Onwuliri, Nigerian Minister of Trade and Investment, strongly supported the Addis Ababa Declaration and elaborated all the policies Nigeria has implemented such as robust SRH policy and its commitment to the Maputo Protocal and Maputo Plan. Joaquim Chissano, former President of Mozambique, spoke of the importance of nondiscrimination and nonviolence and access to SRH services. Mr Chissano stressed that there is no culture or religion which allows for killing of humans on the basis of their sexuality.Norway and Sweden spoke about the importance implementing ICPD POA and respecting of regional outcome documents.

Later that afternoon, I went to the UNFPA CSO Advisory meeting where we conducted a political mapping of the member states. As regions the EU and North America seemed to have a strategy of introducing difficult issues at the beginning to derail the process.  Russia and Malta were not happy with this position. The Africa Group was not united and would react negatively. The Asia Pacific Group were said to be united on the Asia Pacific Population Conference outcome document. The Latin America Group was cohesive and supportive of the Montevideo Consensus document which is progressive. Caribbean was supportive although Jamaica was very conservative at the Princeton training. ACP group and Group of 77 broke as Bolivia the representative of the group was pushing language most of the group did not agree with.

The next day part of our World YWCA delegation went to the youth caucus and the NGO strategy meeting. I, Saba and Vanessa went to the Africa member state meeting, where UNFPA, the African Union and ministers from Nigeria, South Africa and Ethiopia explained the importance of supporting the language in the Addis Ababa Declaration and the Africa common position paper on 2015. Most of the delegates were in agreement but Cameroon the spokesperson for the group insisted that the context of national laws must be taken into consideration thus setting the trend for the week long negotiation.

On Monday the 7th of April, we were surprised with the new rule of issuing limited tickets for CSOs only for the overflow room, with one ticket for plenary floor reserved for the head of delegation. Deborah Thomas-Austin, World YWCA President was able to get three tickets for our delegation. The opening ceremony started in a very positive note with UNFPA sharing the outcome of the Global review report, identifying the progress made in implementing the ICPD PoA and the gaps which member states had noted in their country reports. All the states who spoke on day one where very supportive of the first draft of the PoA report, except some of the African member states raised concerns over language addressing family and SRH rights. The negotiations started on a sour note with Cameroon strongly objecting to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) language and use of SRHR, Egypt was also very vocal on the need to include as per national laws on all issues referring to rights.

Later that day, as an organisation the World YWCA signed on to a letter by CSOs protesting the limited access to CSOs especially as all of us had received confirmation for attending from 7-11th April 2014. In the evening, UNFPA issued a letter confirming all CSOs will have access and those with ECOSOC states can get a temporary card for the whole week.

In the following days the World YWCA delegation was involved in intense lobby for all the key SRH issues to be included in the draft outcome documents, some through the youth caucus, and others through the NGO group and others through delegates in the negotiation room. The negotiations and debates went on until 3am most days but the draft document improved with most of the issues on comprehensive sexual education and access to SRH services by youth. The final document was agreed upon late Friday April 11th at 4.30 am!!

Inside the UN Commission on Population and Development

By Yadanar Aung, YWCA of Myanmar. Yadanar is currently in attendance at the UN 47th Commission on Population and Development at the UN in New York and shares her views about her experience. 

I am currently attending the 47th session of the UN Commission on Population and Development (CPD 47), as part of the World YWCA delegation. The session is held at the UN headquarters, New York from 7th – 11th April, 2014 and is organised by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division.


Yadanar Aung presents the Call to action and the Future Young Women Want document to the Ambassador of Myanmar at the ICDP

On April 5th, 2014, we had the youth caucus at Planned Parenthood Federation America (PPFA) and a strong youth statement has since been endorsed by many organisations and as a result one of the youth caucus members was invited to speak at the official CPD 47th session on the first day April 7th, 2014. The key message of the oral statement articulates that “governments must demonstrate their political commitment to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) by prioritising the removal of financial and legal obstacles to essential services and discriminatory laws and practices that violate our rights; transformation of weak health systems; and the elimination of social and economic inequalities, violence and discrimination. Furthermore, we are hopeful that member states will take action toward the implementation of the ICPD Program of Action by validating emerging issues at the highest levels.”

The theme of the session focuses on “Assessment of the status of the implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development”.  This theme gave me many thoughts: are we just attending the meeting and just going back by giving report? Are we, as civil society, effectively implementing the ICPD PoA? How about the governments? Do they have commitments or just signing? Are they really implementing the ICPD PoA?

Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), recalled that Cairo had been part of a forward-moving agenda to empower women and girls.  “While we have moved forward, there is still much to do,” he said.  Gender discrimination persisted.  Poor urban and rural women alike lacked access to family planning, and one in three births in developing countries were not registered.  The gaps in the Programme of Action must be examined to bring the promise of the early 1990s to all.

Moreover, I was really amazed to hear the wonderful speech of Nafis Sadik, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific “The biggest single obstacle to better public health is not money or technology”, she said.  “It is entrenched prejudice and discrimination by society against girls and women.”

“The youth which voices are not heard, which do not have the opportunity, no meaningful participation and no decision making role are called as Lost Generations and among them adolescent girls are at risk  because of their gender and age.” said Ahmad Alhendawi, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Youth.

Every day, the country delegates report their statements on how the implementing process is going in respective countries and I have realised that the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young women and adolescent girls are still not the priority in their agenda. Well, there are some countries which are very progressive, implementing the ICPD PoA and creating the significant changes, but we can even count how many the countries are.

As a young woman, when I think about my responsibility, raising the voice of our sexual and reproductive health is important. Yet, action speaks louder than words and effective implementing of programmes which promote young women’s SRHR is definitely the responsibility of all young women for all the young women and by the young women.

My first step before I go back is to speak with the ambassador of Myanmar about the current situations of young women and adolescent girls in Myanmar and actions to be taken. Myanmar statement of implementation of ICPD PoA emphasises that “to promote gender equality and empowerment of women, Government has put national strategic plan for investment in women for 2013-2022 in line with CEDAW”. Furthermore, effective advocating and implementing of SRHR is definitely my duty for the young women in Myanmar as well as the Asia Pacific Region.

This whole week at the 47th session of CPD gave me many experiences and I really Thank God for this wonderful blessing to be part of this wonderful group of World YWCA and I really thank World YWCA and YWCA of Myanmar for empowering me.

Fulfilling The Purpose Of Life

By Sharon Yendevenge, World YWCA Programme Associate and member of the YWCA Papua New Guinea.

Life is a gift from God, a series of events that make up our precious lives. Life is a journey and not a destination as we think. Those events make up the journey of life. As we go into Easter, let us reflect on our own lives.

Walking through the journey of life is not easy, no one said life is easy and no one knows how to walk through it without encountering the obstacles of life. We sometimes judge our lives as worthless, full of labour, misery and without purpose. Only the one who created us knows the successes and the struggles. There is a purpose to life for everyone and a calling where we need to identify. You’ll never know what your calling is until you really sit down and reflect back on your life. Sometimes you do what you do but don’t actually realise until someone tells you. It may be a gift in music, singing, volleyball, swimming, serving others, healing and the list goes on. So for me, my journey of life was not easy and I have had learnt the hard way through.

Sharon Y

Sharon Yendevenge

Surviving in life and being content with what I have is the most important thing for me, I appreciate everyone around me who has contributed to my life including family, friends, those people whom I have worked with and my school life. I realised that I am most passionate about working with other people, especially young women including adolescent girls. I find it much easier to communicate with this age group and share my own experiences.

In my own country of Papua New Guinea (PNG), young women have a lack of knowledge and understanding on sexual and reproductive health rights and HIV and violence against women. This makes me wonder about the next generation if more than 50% of the young women in PNG are NOT  informed of their rights. It is so scary to look at the statistics in STI’s and HIV and the violence faced by women every day. One in three women and girls will face violence or sexual abuse in their lives and very often don’t actually know where to run to or seek advice. Therefore, the only way we can help reduce such is to educate as many young women and girls as we can everyday through information sharing regardless of where we are and what tools we have. One conversation can save a thousand lives. No conversation and silence can destroy more than a thousand lives. Remember, a woman encounters so much during a day and yet can feed her family likewise a young woman and a girl also encounter violence but remain silent because of fear but manages to do her duties within her family. It may be your sister, mother, aunty, wife, grandmother, and girlfriend. No matter where we are in life and what our calling is, we have a purpose to serve, only then can we make a change. Together we can reduce the negativities of life.

We all need to pursue our dreams to fulfil our purpose in life. In helping both women, young women girls and men, young men and boys understand the realities of life. Having had the chance to listen to the many individuals I have come across (male/female, young /old) has brought tears, laughter, joy to me by sharing their stories – life stories. For the young, the events in their lives have been a lesson to learn and for the old, it has been a journey of lessons learned and some regrets. Considering the fact that life itself gave them hope and to move on and to share their stories to others has brought change and gave the other person hope in life. Our lives are meant to give hope to others through our stories and our actions.

Jesus himself led a life full of hope to the many and is a perfect example of hope. He gave hope to Martha and Mary by raising Lazarus from death to life. You may also have your stories in your journey of life that brings hope to others. If you still think you can’t make a change in a person’s life, then use this time, use your story to bring hope to others.

My World YWCA ITI Experience

By Leticia Mellonie Velasquez, YWCA of Belize. Leticia recently attended the World YWCA International Training Institute (ITI) on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and HIV, as a World YWCA Intern, held in Arusha, Tanzania and shares her views on her experience.

When I was first invited to participate in the Sexual and Reproductive health and Rights (SRHR) ITI in Tanzania, Africa, the first thing that came to mind was seeing the African women in their full attire of cultural clothing. I also thought about seeing zebras, giraffes and camels walking around. The only thing I was worried about was the lions and tigers. Lol.

Upon arrival and my first day there, I just couldn’t explain how amazing everything was. It was way beyond my expectations. I got to experience how our African sisters from different countries rejoiced in a harmonious way. I really felt the blessing of the Lord among us and his presence was warm and appreciating.

Leticia Mellonie Velasquez

Leticia Mellonie Velasquez

Just seeing how our common visions of spreading the education of SRHR came a long way over the years. Our voices are being heard, and a change is being made. Just our presence at a conference like this was a share example. It created an opportunity for women and young girls to have a better today and a knowledgeable hope for a bigger and brighter future for young women and girls.

Today, as I speak from my entire knowledge and experience on sexual and reproductive health rights and HIV, it allows me to realise that as women, there is a load of work still to do among the many improvements. There are still challenges being faced by many and in order for these challenges to be eradicated, we can’t give up. As women and girls we have to unite to make these changes, and successfully fight for comprehensive, age appropriate sexual education for everyone.

The challenges we face, put a pain in my heart. Knowing that nature embraces us as a gift to the world and carriers of life, a violation of any of our rights, gender inequality and inability to access essential basic needs such as electricity and water is just not right.

Why can’t we break from these barriers of faith and culture? It’s not that we want to forget who we are, but let us just be women and girls who enjoy the natural wonders of life. If the Lord is the only saviour that can judge us, and he does not condemn us, he only gives more and more blessings in life, and allows each of us to decide on how to live it, why can’t everyone?