KUALA LUMPUR--Women's place in the global development agenda took centre stage on the final day of the Women Deliver conference.
Sexual and reproductive health, gender equality and women's empowerment need to occupy a principal spot in the new framework that will succeed the Millennium Development Goals after 2015, keynote speakers emphasized.
That message resounded throughout the three days of Women Deliver, in multiple presentations on family planning, maternal health, adolescent girls, cervical cancer, sexuality, abortion and related issues, and in ministerial and parliamentarians forums held in parallel to the conference.
Several processes are under way to assess the achievement of the MDGs and establish new development goals. Others are reviewing progress in carrying out the actions called for at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).
"Countries where women have rights and opportunity denied cannot maximize their development potential – that can’t happen if half the population is not equally empowered," said Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme.
Ms. Clark noted that progress towards the MDG goals and targets “has been very uneven – not least for girls and women”. Gaps in girls’ education have closed. Maternal deaths have been reduced by half since 1990, but 800 women still die every day – “a global emergency”. Some 222 million women, predominantly poor and young, have an unmet need for contraception, leading to 80 million unplanned pregnancies and 20 million unsafe abortions.
“Gender inequality and disempowerment of women and girls lie at the heart of slow progress on MDG targets and the Cairo Programme of Action. That’s why they must be focused on and tackled with renewed determination in a reinvigorated global development agenda,” she said.
Two members of a high-level task force on ICPD, former President of Finland Tarja Halonen and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, elaborated on the group’s call last month for much bolder action to protect sexual and reproductive rights, achieve universal access to sexual and reproductive health information and services, ensure all young people have comprehensive sexuality education, and eliminate violence against girls and women.
The princess also said “sexual and reproductive health and rights are central to economic growth and addressing climate change”.
UNFPA Executive Director and Melinda Gates on the stage at Women Deliver.
Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, reinforced that point in a later discussion on population growth, sustainability and women’s rights: “In every particular circumstance, when you ask women how many children they want to have, they actually want less than the ones they have.
“What we have denied them is the right to make that choice,” he stressed. “It comes back to the issue of freedom and choices, of exposure to education and access to services.”
The three day conference had more than 4,500 participants from 2,200 organizations and 149 countries, representing “a gold mine of skills and experience”, Women Deliver President Jill Sheffield said in a media briefing.
This was the third Women Deliver conference in six years. Plans for a fourth have not been set, but Ms. Sheffield said her organization would focus in the next three years on family planning as a lifesaving intervention for women.
Girls and women need to be “part of everyday thinking” she said. “As the world thinks about a new development agenda, equality has to be at the heart of it."