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Defending women’s rights at the CPD

2011 April 21
by Amy Boldosser

Amy Boldosser is Senior Program Officer for Global Advocacy at Family Care International.

As I wrote in a previous post, the UN Commission on Population and Development (CPD) held its annual meeting last week in New York. The CPD’s mandate is to further the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action, a groundbreaking 1994 agreement that confirmed the central place of women’s rights and access to reproductive health in population and development policy.

UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin

UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin

Remarks by UN leaders made it clear that the stakes in these discussions are very high. In his report to this year’s CPD, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that current funding levels for family planning, reproductive health services, and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS are so low that they jeopardize the fulfillment of both the ICPD Programme of Action and the Millennium Development Goals. The Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs noted the cost-effectiveness of investments in family planning: “For every dollar spent on modern contraceptives, $1.30 is saved in maternal and newborn care.”  Babatunde Osotimehin, the new UNFPA Executive Director, stated it clearly: “Investing in the health and rights of women and young people is not an expenditure, it is an investment in our future.”

After a long week of intense  negotiations lasting late into the night, the Commission’s final Resolution reaffirmed the ICPD Programme of Action; it also welcomed the UN Secretary-General’s Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health which aims to reduce maternal, newborn, and child mortality.  Support for implementation of the Global Strategy was also reiterated by a number of governments in their formal statements to the CPD.

For those of us who work on global health, the connection between women’s reproductive health and rights and broader development and population issues is an obvious one.  Unfortunately, a small but vocal minority of governments led by the Vatican, which is not a member state but has observer status at the United Nations, refuse to recognize that interconnectedness and opposed rights- affirming language in negotiations on the CPD Resolution for this year. These opposition governments at the CPD raised repeated roadblocks in negotiations on language around women’s rights — and particularly references to gender, abortion, sexuality, reproductive rights,  comprehensive sexuality education, and the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people— challenging international commitments that date as far back as the ICPD in 1994.  Their stalling tactics included repeatedly questioning the  definitions of such basic terms as “reproductive health commodities,” “fertility,” and even “girls.”  One African CPD delegate put it best: “A small minority are intent on ignoring the facts on the ground and the need of working on measures to save the lives of women.” In the end, the Commission safeguarded the rights of women and young people to access education and lifesaving services in its final Resolution, but this result did not come without a struggle. This year’s experience shows the urgent need for continued advocacy to protect sexual and reproductive health and rights, both for their own sake and because they are crucial for sustainable development.

The theme of the 2012 CPD will be “Adolescents and youth.” A number of youth-led advocacy groups were key players at this year’s meeting. (You can read about the CPD Youth Caucus here, and can also see video of their powerful statements at the CPD.) The opposition is sure to be out in force again next year, opposing policies that educate and empower young people, and FCI will work in close alliance with youth-led groups and other advocates from around the world to ensure that the development goals laid out at the ICPD, including universal access to reproductive health, finally become a reality for all women and young people.

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