Agreement affirms the rights of women and young people, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and the importance of ending violence against women and girls.
After days of intense discussions, nearly 500 delegates, including ministers and senior officials from 47 countries, adopted a comprehensive Asian and Pacific Ministerial Declaration on Population and Development.
The document was adopted on the last day of the Sixth Asian and Pacific Population Conference in Bangkok, hosted by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), in cooperation with UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.
Four Members of the High-Level Task Force for ICPD – Ishita Chaudhry, Dame Carol Kidu, Dr. Gita Sen and Dr. Xuejun Yu were deeply engaged in the conference proceedings, either at the negotiating table or advocating on behalf of the rights of women and young people.
The declaration advances many of the progressive positions of the High-Level Task Force that are also being demanded by diverse constituencies across the region and globally. As Ishita Chaudhry, Task Force Member and youth leader shared, “The leadership shown by many governments in the room, including India and the Pacific Islands, reinforced for many of us that governments in the region are listening to and representing the voices of their people.
“It is critical that they have recognized sexual rights and the need to address intimate partner violence and eliminate violence against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity,” she added. “The collective support for ensuring the sexual and reproductive rights of adolescents and young people, particularly affirming our rights to comprehensive sexuality education and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services, including access to contraception regardless of marital status, and the need to create sustainable and relevant employment opportunities, is reflective of the genuine daily realities that many adolescents and young people in the region live in.”
The agreement recognizes unsafe abortion as a public health and human rights challenge and calls on countries to review or repeal laws that punish women and girls who have undergone illegal abortion.
Dr. Sen noted the importance of civil society actors in advancing a bolder agenda. “There were some riproaring battles in Bangkok and certain red lines that a minority of countries were unwilling to cross,” she said. “But in spite of that, we saw a significant appetite for moving forward and overwhelming support for an inclusive agenda—and that must include the human rights of women and girls, including protection of their sexual and reproductive rights. People understand that things are different than they were in 1994. And we were very much assisted by the coordinated impact of civil society partners, especially the women’s movement and young people.”
Dame Kidu spoke of the relevance of the agreement to the Pacific Islands, “where violence against women and girls, with devastating effects on their lives and health, and impunity for perpetrators, has become of increasing concern to all sectors of society. The new agreement echoes the parliamentary agreement for our subregion – the Moana Declaration — and it helps us chart a meaningful way forward for justice, equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.”
Dr. Yu also welcomed the outcome: “As a new Member of the Task Force, I was pleased to see the outcome of the conference affirming many of the policy recommendations for the way forward on addressing critical gaps that afflict the lives of so many millions in our region and globally.”
Highlights of the Declaration related to the High-Level Task Force priorities include the following:
- Recognition that ‘sexual and reproductive rights’ embrace certain human rights that Member States must respect, protect and fulfill.
- Affirmation that these health and rights issues must be an integral part of national health plans and public budgets, and priority should be given to universal access to comprehensive and integrated quality sexual and reproductive health services and information to all, including young people.
- Calls for Member States to implement comprehensive sexuality education programmes and to respect sexual and reproductive health and rights of adolescents and young people, including removing legal and social barriers to youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services.
- In line with Task Force recommendations, the document calls on Member States to eliminate violence against women, guarantee critical services for all victims and survivors of gender-based violence, and integrate responses to gender-based violence into all sexual and reproductive health services and programmes, including emergency contraception and safe abortion.
- A call to prohibit practices that violate the reproductive health and rights of women and adolescent girls, such as spousal or parental consent requirements to receive health services, and early and forced marriage and FGM.
- A commitment to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and concerns for related acts of violence. The agreement also calls attention to the impact that laws on consensual adult sexual behaviors and relationships can have on individuals.
- Calls for action to protect the human rights and end inequities that afflict especially excluded groups.