Historic Level of Support for Sexual and Reproductive Rights at UN Negotiations during Commission on Population and DevelopmentApril 15, 2014 | United Nations, New York

The United Nations made history on human rights and equality for all last week.

Government leaders from around the world gathered in New York for the Commission on Population and Development on the occasion of the 20-year anniversary of the landmark Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development adopted in Cairo in 1994.

Throughout the negotiations, an unprecedented number of governments from diverse countries and regions joined in standing up for sexual and reproductive rights as fundamental human rights and freedoms.


Task Force Member Dr. Lola Dare, second from left, was part of the panel discussion on the theme ‘ICPD beyond 2014: An unfinished agenda’. Moderated by journalist Barbara Crossette, it also featured presentations by: Gamal Serour, Director of the International Islamic Centre for Population Studies and Research at Al-Azhar University, Egypt; and Carmen Barroso, Regional Director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region. UN DESA/P. Vasic

The essence of the debate – intense at times – was the struggle for social justice for all, regardless of people’s age, sex, racial or ethnic background, migrant, disability, HIV or other status in society. Numerous delegations appealed for concrete commitments to stop the hate, violence and discrimination perpetrated against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

In the end, governments recognized the need to address persistent inequalities and discrimination on any grounds, especially for disadvantaged groups, and reaffirmed the promotion of gender equality and the realization of the rights of adolescents and youth if progress on development is to be made, with particular attention to girls and young women.

The concluding agreement urges governments to focus on critical gaps in ICPD implementation, especially to eliminate gender-based violence and harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation; prevent maternal deaths and morbidity and address HIV and AIDS; and ensure equitable, universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, including comprehensive education on human sexuality and related services for adolescents and youth.

Importantly, the final agreement recognizes sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as central to achieving sustainable development, and calls on governments to integrate the ICPD agenda in the post-2015 development framework.

Strong and strategic participation by Task Force Members

The High-Level Task Force for the ICPD was well represented by the various Members who served on official delegations, as advocates and on panels: Maria Antonieta Alcalde, Renate Bähr, Mariela Castro, Ishita Chaudhry, Lola Dare, Lambert Grijns, Holo Hachonda, Dame Carol Kidu, Alessandra Nilo, Wanda Nowicka, Sandeep Prasad and Gita Sen. They spoke out at events and in the press. They worked tirelessly behind the scenes, through their networks and via social media. It was all part of a “flat out” effort, as Renate Bähr described it in an op-ed, to ensure that gender equality, young people and sexual and reproductive health and rights are given priority in the global agreements debated last week and also throughout the year at the United Nations.

Even before the Commission officially got underway on April 7, Task Force Co-Chairs Presidents Joaquim Chissano and Tarja Halonen and Members Lambert Grijns and Dame Carol Kidu participated in an inaugural high-level interactive debate organized by UNFPA (see more detailed coverage here). Holo Hachonda was invited to serve as a resource person on behalf of the Task Force at two UNFPA-sponsored preparatory retreats for CPD delegates held the week before the session started.

On April 8, Task Force Members were joined by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Executive Director of UNFPA in a standing-room only event that delivered powerful perspectives on the importance of prioritizing sexual and reproductive health and rights in the ICPD Beyond 2014. Celebrating Cairo & Going Beyond, organized by the Task Force and co-hosted by 12 governments, was symbolic of the energy and commitment of the global movement gathered in New York for this occasion.

In an April 7 speech to the CPD plenary, Renate Bähr, representing the Task Force and her own organization, the German Foundation for World Population (DSW), highlighted crucial areas of action needed to integrate the ICPD agenda into the Post-2015 framework. On April 9, Dr. Lola Dare represented the Task Force at another plenary panel called ICPD beyond 2014: an unfinished agenda, urging leaders to focus on the rights of women and young people and emphasizing the importance of accountability in the new agenda. At the CPD side event Uniting for Safe Legal Abortion: A Call to Action for 2014 and Beyond, sponsored by IPAS and IPPF/WHR, Ishita Chaudhry stressed in her speech that women’s and girls’ reproductive agency is necessary for gender equality.

Alessandra Nilo represented GESTOS at a CPD side event on emerging priorities for sexual and reproductive health and human rights, alongside senior representatives from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the WHO and UNFPA. Ms. Nilo also delivered a high-impact address on behalf of GESTOS at the President of the General Assembly’s April 9-10 event on the Role of Partnerships in the Post-2015 Development Agenda. She used the occasion as an opportunity to deliver a ‘Red Flag’ letter, signed by over 700 civil society organizations, calling on government leaders and the UN to adopt a human rights-centred approach to achieving equality and development for all in the new global agenda.