UNITED NATIONS, New York — The General Assembly is today marking the tenth anniversary of the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which adopted a consensus 20-year plan to provide access to reproductive health, reduce maternal deaths, promote women’s rights and help reduce poverty.
The Assembly is hearing statements by various countries, expressing their support for the Programme and sharing experiences on how the mandate is helping their countries, communities and families.
“Cairo was a turning point in development thinking for it put the focus where it should be—on improving the quality of life of all people no matter where they happen to be born and whether they are women or men” said Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, which was the secretariat of the Cairo Conference. “It put the focus on protecting human rights and the natural resources on which all life depends. It recognized that migration, urbanization, ageing, poverty and sustainable development are all interconnected.”
“The agenda is built on a simple premise: that providing universal access to education and reproductive health services and promoting women’s empowerment will reduce gender inequality and poor health, and help break the cycle of poverty in which millions of individuals and families now find themselves,” said Ms. Obaid. “If governments make these critical investments in people, and use population data and policies not only to count people but to make people count, then a chain reaction will occur, leading to concrete progress that is not only measured by scientists, but most importantly, by individuals as they go about their daily lives.”
The Cairo mandate should be fully reflected in the 2005 review of the Millennium Declaration, the Executive Director added. Representatives of the European Union (EU), associated nations and the “Group of 77” developing countries agreed.
“If we are to translate our commitment to the achievement of the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals] into concrete results by 2015, we must dedicate ourselves to the complete and improved implementation of the Cairo Programme of Action,” said Hans van den Broek, of the Netherlands and special envoy of the European Union Presidency to the commemorative meeting. He spoke on behalf of the Union and associated nations. “The way to 2015 leads through Cairo. We cannot talk about attainment of the Millennium Development Goals without also the attainment of the ICPD goals.”
“When couples and individuals are enabled to make free and informed choice about the number, timing and spacing of their children, families are smaller and population growth is slower, contributing to economic growth, sustainable development and poverty reduction,” said the EU representative. “Nowhere has this been more dramatically shown than in South-east Asia, where the ‘Asian Miracle’ and demographic transition have gone hand in hand. Other regions have the same opportunity.”
“In 1994, the individual freed himself or herself from the population planners and took centre-stage, saying, ‘I am not a number, I have rights, my choice is my own’”, he added.
Mr. van den Broek announced the EU’s collective intention to fill the reproductive health commodities gap of $75 million in 2004 through a special contribution to UNFPA’s Reproductive Health Commodity Fund. The sum, he said, would prevent millions of maternal and infant deaths, abortions and unintended pregnancies.
Despite the efforts of developing countries to set up and expand access to reproductive health programmes, millions of their citizens still lacked access to crucial services, said Qatar’s Sultan Al-Mahmoud, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77.
“There are still gaps in the implementation of the Programme of Action, with dire implications for the realization of the development goals, particularly the MDGs,” warned Mr. Al-Mahmoud. “This issue should also receive high priority at the 2005 high-level event to be held next year, as the MDGs cannot be achieved without the full implementation of the conference goals.”
The special Assembly meeting will continue to the end of the day. It had earlier heard speeches by the Assembly President and the Deputy Secretary-General.
Today’s event follows yesterday’s presentation to the United Nations of a statement by world leaders and more than 30,000 signatures from citizens in Europe and the United States, all expressing support for the Cairo consensus.
The Cairo consensus was reached by 179 governments, which agreed on actions to alleviate poverty and promote development by reducing maternal and infant deaths; promoting women’s rights and education; preventing HIV/AIDS; and ensuring universal access to reproductive health, including family planning.
UNFPA is the world’s largest multilateral source of population assistance. Since it became operational in 1969, the Fund has provided substantial assistance to developing countries, at their request, to address their population and development needs. Making motherhood safer for all women is at the heart of UNFPA’s mandate.
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William A. Ryan
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