The High-Level Task Force for the ICPD held a panel called Bridging the ICPD and Post 2015: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for All, at the Women Deliver conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 29 May 2013. With an audience of over 100 people, the discussion was an opportunity for Co-Chair President Halonen and five other Members to outline the Task Force’s recommendations for ensuring that sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender equality and the empowerment of women and young people are advanced through the ICPD Beyond 2014 and made core elements of the Post-2015 agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.
“As advocates we all have our work cut out for us,” said Dame Carol Kidu, Founder of the Safe Motherhood Alliance in Papua New Guinea, in her opening remarks as moderator. “We are fortunate that we are such a strong, energized global community – and by ‘we’ I wish to be clear that I mean all individuals, women, men and youth, from civil society, from government, from parliaments, the UN and other walks of life that share in this common vision, united in this common front.”
“While sexual and reproductive health and rights are fundamental for improving the health of women and girls, it feels that there is a growing opposition, especially in relation to sexual rights,” said Marijke Wijnroks, Special Ambassador for HIV/AIDS and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights from the Netherlands. “Sexual and reproductive rights are nothing more than the right of everyone to make their own free, informed and responsible decisions – about very basic aspects of one’s life, one’s body, sexuality, health, relationships and if, when and with whom to marry and have children. It seems like such a ‘no-brainer’ that no one but oneself should decide these very private matters. As the High-Level Task Force, we consider that sexual and reproductive rights are fundamental rights, and that any failure to recognize them is a violation of human rights.”
Musimbi Kanyoro, CEO of the Global Fund for Women, emphasized that universal access to quality, comprehensive and integrated sexual and reproductive health services is essential to achieving lasting change. In discussing the need for timely care for unsafe abortion complications and expanding access to safe abortion, she said, “from an equity lens, even in countries where it is legally very restricted…it is the poorest women and girls who pay the price of these restrictions, it is the poorest women and girls who are most likely to die because they cannot afford a life-saving alternative….We call for sexual and reproductive health to be positioned as a priority of national health plans, budgets and health sector strengthening.” Kanyoro also noted that “because sexual and reproductive health services are among the most likely services an abused women or girl will come into contact with….and because violence has such devastating consequences for sexual and reproductive health and is so closely intertwined with sexual and reproductive rights…[the Task Force] is also calling for all sexual and reproductive health programmes to systematically integrate responses to gender and sexual violence.”
Highlighting the Task Force’s emphasis on the rights and empowerment of young people, Sandeep Prasad, Executive Director of Action Canada for Population and Development, noted that “we have the largest group of young people in history, but too few have access to comprehensive sexuality education. The Task Force call in this area is clear: All young people should have access to comprehensive sexuality education so they can make informed health decisions….[It] empowers young people to make decisions about if and when to become sexually active and how to protect themselves against unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. And comprehensive sexuality education should be understood as a core aspect of quality education from the earliest ages, as it provides basic information, knowledge and skills that all young people need to stay healthy, safe and on track for their education and personal development…. It is also the perfect opportunity to foster values of tolerance, self-respect and respect for others, and redress harmful gender norms in order to help eliminate violence against women and girls and foster gender equality.”
Renate Bähr, Executive Director of the German Foundation for World Population, linked the principles of the ICPD with the Post-2015 and Sustainable Development Agendas by pointing to the centrality of sexual and reproductive health and rights to all global human development objectives. “When young girls, women and couples living in poverty are able to plan the number and spacing of their children, they are in a much better position to break the cycle of poverty. Parents can provide their children with better health care and education. And girls can finish their secondary or even university education instead of dropping out of school because of unwanted early pregnancies…. Being able to freely decide the number and spacing of one’s children also helps adapt to climate change…. Paradoxically, the unmet need for family planning is especially high in the regions most affected by climate change.”
“Access to sexual and reproductive health and rights,” Bähr continued, “improved child health and quality education together with pro-poor growth policies can pave the way for countries to reap a demographic bonus. But for this to happen, we need consensus in societies around the world: so that girls can go to school instead of being married off young, so that private sector engages in creating jobs for young people, so that women and girls are free to decide about their sexuality and reproduction.”
H.E. Tarja Halonen, former president of Finland and Co-Chair of the High-Level Task Force for ICPD, echoed Bähr’s sentiment in her closing statements. “Sexual and reproductive health and rights are a universal agenda, relevant to all people and all countries; and these are not only human rights issues, but issues of economics and the environment…. At the end of the day, we need to decide: What is better for humanity and for our planet: empowering women and young people, or restricting their knowledge and options? The international community has a real window of opportunity as it plans and decides on the Post-2015 Agenda…sometimes there’s a sense of ‘competing priorities’. But in fact, tackling inter-related challenges holistically is precisely what we need to do to make meaningful progress…. In short, what the High-Level Task Force for the ICPD proposes is the right thing to do; but it is also common sense. No country can afford to forgo opportunities to make the empowerment of women and young people, and sexual and reproductive health and rights, a reality in the 21st Century.”
Task Force Members address Ministerial Forum and other panels at Women Deliver
Task Force Members participated in several other panels and events during the conference, including the ones below:
President Tarja Halonen and Marijke Wijnroks participated in the Ministerial Forum held the day before the Conference, on “Meeting Our Commitments for Family Planning.” President Halonen delivered opening remarks and helped to define the critical elements that lead to success and key actions to improve access to family planning information and services for the underserved. Marijke Wijnroks was a panelist at the Forum session on “Ensuring Access for Young People,” and shared successful practices for expanding access to family planning for young people in the Netherlands.
President Tarja Halonen and HRH Crown Princess Mary of Denmark spoke on the panel “The Development Agenda through a Woman’s Lens,” with UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, and Theo Sowa of the African Women’s Development Fund, moderated by Frances Kissling and with video remarks by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. In outlining the three pillars that the Task Force sees as essential for a human-centred, equitable, sustainable development agenda – women’s empowerment and gender equality, young people’s rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights – President Halonen pointed out that these areas are not only key to the well-being of women and all people, but also “are smart, cost-effective investments that can bring net savings to public budgets. They have high payoffs across national priorities and objectives, and for the future.” Crown Princess Mary went on to emphasize the universality of sexual and reproductive health and rights, pointing out that they “are at the core of human life, whether rich or poor.” She emphasized that while these rights are particularly important for women, they are “relevant to everybody”… and that “we must take these issues from ‘women’s issues’…to humankind issues that affect our children, families, societies, economies, environment and nations.”
Musimbi Kanyoro participated in the opening plenary session, “Investing in Women’s Reproductive Health Equals Investing in Economic and Social Progress for Everyone.” She made the case that investing in women and girls “must be rooted in their rights, dignity, and their humanity,” and called the global community to “act urgently to address the global emergency of maternal and child mortality and morbidity… because justice delayed is justice denied.”
During the plenary session, “Women Lead – Opportunities and Challenges,” President Halonen shared the stage with Ghida Fakhry of Al Jazeera; Chelsea Clinton, Board Member of the Clinton Foundation; Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Yakin Ertürk, Member of the Council of Europe, Committee on the Prevention of Torture and Former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women. President Halonen shared her experience as the first woman President of Finland, as well as the first woman lawyer in the trade union labor movement. She also encouraged engaging men and boys in ensuring fulfillment of women’s rights, saying “women’s rights are human rights, and one of the core rights are sexual and reproductive health and rights.”
Watch videos from the conference via the links at the top of this page. Additional coverage can be seen on the Women Deliver website.
Videos from Women Deliver
- Panel: The Development Agenda Through a Woman’s Lens – with Task Force Co-Chair Tarja Halonen and Task Force Member Princess Mary of Denmark.
- “It’s Time for Action” – Remarks by Task Force Co-Chair Tarja Halonen
In the News
- Global women’s rights meet urges action
May 30, 2013 | BDNews24.com (Bangladesh)
- Healthy women make healthy economies
May 29, 2013 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
- Africa: Investing in Women
May 29, 2013 | AllAfrica.com (Ethiopia)
- Malaysia meeting on women’s rights attracts policymakers and princesses
May 28, 2013 | The Guardian