Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for all at European-Central Asian ICPD Review ConferenceGeneva, Switzerland

High-Level Task Force Reinforces its Policy Recommendations during the Europe and Central Asia Regional ICPD Review Conference

The High-Level Task Force for the ICPD urged intensified political will and investments to make sexual and reproductive health and rights a reality for all at the European and Central Asian regional review conference of the ICPD Programme of Action, Enabling Choices: Population Priorities For The 21st Century organized by the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and UNFPA in Geneva, Switzerland on July 1-2, 2013.

“The ICPD Programme of Action originally envisioned that development will be achieved when all individuals have the information and means to decide on their sexual and reproductive lives free from violence, coercion and discrimination,” said Task Force Co-Chair and former President of Finland, Tarja Halonen, during her keynote address at the opening high-level plenary session of the conference.

“While we celebrate the successes of the past 20 years, we must take note that too many women, young people and especially marginalized communities are being left out of the Cairo promise.” President Halonen drew the audience’s attention to the “triple window of opportunity” the international community currently has for forging a “forward-looking agenda for human rights and equality for all”, referring not only to the ICPD review process, but also to the Post-2015 Development Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals processes. “Now is really the right time to act,” she said.

Four other members of the Task Force — Renate Bähr, Pinar Ilkkaracan, Wanda Nowicka, Sandeep Prasad — participated in the conference, and briefed the news media on the Task Force’s policy recommendations for the ICPD Beyond 2014.

At the briefing, Renate Bähr, who also served on the German delegation and moderated the session on Families, Sexual and Reproductive Health over the Life Course, told journalists, “We need an even bolder vision today than the one put forth 20 years ago at the landmark Cairo conference. There is ‘unfinished business’ in the Cairo agenda, with 800 women and adolescent girls dying needlessly every day due to pregnancy and childbirth-related complications. In Europe and Central Asia, access to quality sexual and reproductive health services is uneven, with marginalized groups — minorities, migrants, internally displaced people, refugees and Roma — facing the greatest barriers. There are proven, cost-effective solutions, but governments must act, and act now.”

At the press briefing and throughout the conference, the Task Force urged governments in Europe and Central Asia, and the world over, to heed its calls for action in 4 key areas, to ensure fulfillment of sexual and reproductive health and rights of all.

  1. HUMAN RIGHTS: Respecting, protecting and fulfilling sexual and reproductive rights for all through public education campaigns and community mobilization on human rights, and legal and policy reforms.
  2. ACCESS: Accelerated universal access to quality, comprehensive and integrated sexual and reproductive health information, education and services.
  3. EDUCATION: Comprehensive Sexuality Education for all young people, in and out of school.
  4. VIOLENCE: Eliminating violence against women and girls and securing universal access to critical services for all victims and survivors of gender-based violence.

“We must mobilize all sectors of society to create a supportive environment for the exercise of sexual and reproductive rights,” said Sandeep Prasad. “That includes repealing the parental consent requirements for adolescent girls to access sexual and reproductive health services that exist in some countries, continuing our move towards ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, decriminalizing HIV transmission, and ensuring access to safe, legal abortion services. Young people must be guaranteed quality comprehensive sexuality education that goes beyond the basics of biology, to instill values of human rights, tolerance and non-violence. Failure to implement these measures amounts to grave social injustices that must be replaced with the guarantee of sexual and reproductive health and rights, which are fundamental human rights.”

Serving on the Polish delegation at the conference, Wanda Nowicka spoke during the session on Inequalities, Social Inclusion and Rights, emphasizing the Task Force’s call for universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, with particular emphasis on equity and access to safe abortion services. “Unsafe abortion is a killer of women and adolescent girls and it continues killing in Europe because governments have yet to fulfill the promise made in Cairo to ensure universal access to quality, comprehensive and integrated sexual and reproductive health information, education and services,” she told journalists at the briefing. “Deaths due to unsafe abortion are entirely avoidable. Abortion is actually one of the safest medical procedures. However, while abortion services are legal in most countries in the region, they are still not always accessible or affordable.” Her remarks were at the center of an Agence France Press story that was picked up in a number of media outlets in Europe and Asia.

Pinar Ilkkaracan addressed the Task Force’s fourth action area — eliminating violence against women and girls. “Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic — one of the world’s most pervasive human rights violations. Nearly one-third of women in the world have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partners. Up to 30% of adolescent girls report that their first sexual experience was forced. Services available to women and girls subjected to violence are often scarce and limited, especially by comparison to the magnitude of the problem. This is not acceptable, and we must rectify this situation with the sense of urgency this human rights violation requires,” stated Ilkkaracan, whose remarks were also quoted by Agence France Press. Ilkkaracan also made a statement during the conference session on Population Dynamics, and presented on ICPD Beyond 2014 – from Promise to Action: Civil Society Organizations Defining the Way Forward, at the post-conference civil society forum on 3-4 July.

A statement by Bähr at the conference is one the Task Force will carry to all the regional ICPD review conferences: “We have a choice to make about our future at this meeting, and it’s all about women and young people. Sexual and reproductive health and rights, and the empowerment of women and young people, lie at the heart of sustainable development. These rights are as central now as they were 20 years ago, if not more so. If we shift our focus from women and young people, our future — everyone’s future — is diminished.”

The Task Force will continue to play a major role in the Cairo 20-year review process, including at the upcoming regional conferences:

Each conference will review the progress made in each region towards achieving the goals and objectives of the ICPD Programme of Action, identify neglected areas and emerging issues, and chart the way forward for accelerated implementation as well as the ICPD Beyond 2014. The outcomes of the regional reviews will contribute to the global assessment of the ICPD, influence population and development policy at the national, regional and global levels, and contribute to the global development agenda post-2015.

For more information about the ICPD+20 Review, please visit the ICPD Beyond 2014 website. The Task Force’s policy recommendations for the ICPD Beyond 2014 are available here.

Task Force Members at the Conference

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