Statement

04 March 2014

"Sexual and Reproductive Health is a Fundamental Human Right": UNFPA Executive Director Addresses Human Rights Council

UNITED NATIONS, Geneva - Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin addressed the 25th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council where he emphasized that sexual and reproductive health is a fundamental human right and that empowering women and girls is one of the most reliable pathways to improved well-being for all.

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Statement as prepared for delivery

Mr. President,
High Commissioner,
Distinguished Members of the Human Rights Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Two decades ago, in 1994, the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development, or ICPD, marked a turning point by putting people’s rights and dignity at the very heart of development. It emphasized that sexual and reproductive health is a fundamental human right and that empowering women and girls is both the “rights” thing to do and one of the most reliable pathways to improved well-being for all.

The comprehensive ICPD@20 review process undertaken by Member States and led by UNFPA recently, as mandated by the General Assembly, underscores that these messages are as relevant today as they were 20 years ago. Drawing on data from 176 countries, the recently released ICPD Global Review Report shows significant achievements since Cairo in 1994.

Fewer women are dying in pregnancy and childbirth. Indeed, we have cut maternal mortality by 50 percent. More women have access to education, work and political participation. More children, particularly girls, are going to school. Nearly 1 billion people have moved out of extreme poverty. There are more laws to protect and uphold human rights today.

But the report also reveals in stark detail the persistent inequalities and discrimination that are undermining human rights and threatening to derail development. In many countries progress is limited to the wealthy. In the poorest communities, even in wealthier countries, women’s status, maternal health, child marriage and many of the concerns of the Cairo conference have seen little progress over the past two decades.

Discriminatory laws, practices and attitudes continue to keep women and young people, particularly adolescent girls, from accessing sexual and reproductive health services, including contraception, and realizing their reproductive rights.

People living with disabilities, indigenous people, racial and ethnic minorities, and other persons perceived to be different from the rest continue to face discrimination. Many face exclusion from the time they are born. Only 1 in 3 births in developing countries is registered, and without registration, accessing and exercising rights is nearly impossible.

In the poorest communities girls continue to face challenges in accessing and completing education, particularly secondary education. Supporting their aspirations – and the aspirations of all young people – must be central to the development agenda of the next two decades. More young people than ever before are entering their productive and reproductive years. Investments are now critically needed to guarantee their human rights and expand their capabilities.

The ICPD report’s findings point to why governments must enact and enforce laws that eliminate inequalities and protect human rights. Twenty years after Cairo, full enjoyment of reproductive rights remains but an aspiration for millions of women and girls. Weak accountability systems and limited access to them by marginalized and excluded populations perpetuate this situation.

The Human Rights Council has a key role to play in bridging this accountability gap. Through the Council’s leadership, issues such as maternal mortality and morbidity – once seen simply as public health issues – are today understood as human rights challenges and issues of social justice. The Universal Periodic Review recommendations on actions to improve maternal health and protect reproductive rights demonstrate the potential that this mechanism, and the work of the Council as a whole, can have in strengthening international and national accountability. This will be critical for implementing the ICPD beyond 2014 and ensuring a post-2015 agenda firmly grounded in human rights and the rule of law. UNFPA stands ready to support states in implementing the UPR recommendations.

I would like to thank High Commissioner Pillay for her extraordinary leadership, for raising her voice time and again for the voiceless whose rights are most at risk. It is time for all of us to raise our voices to protect the rights of the most vulnerable. Development gains should not be limited to the fortunate; they should reach all populations. Human rights should not be the preserve of the privileged; they must be promoted and protected for all people everywhere. Sexual and reproductive health and rights are universal human rights. They are an indivisible part of the broader human rights and development equation.

As we work to chart the sustainable development path beyond 2015, let us recommit ourselves to realizing the vision of Cairo and to delivering a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled – where human rights are respected and people’s diversity is celebrated.

As a barometer of our progress, let us look to the adolescent girl. Every girl, regardless of where she lives, or her economic circumstances, has the right to fulfil her human potential. Educated, healthy, skilled and safe, protected from violence, early marriage and motherhood in childhood, equipped with choices and opportunities, she can become a powerful agent for social change and driver of development.

The inclusive, equitable, sustainable future we all want depends on the actions we take today to ensure her dignity, health and well-being. Simply put: changing her life can change the world.

Thank you.

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