Statement

21 November 2002

"Keeping the Promise, Moving Forward", Statement to the 2002 International Parliamentarian's Conference on the Implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action, in Ottawa, Canada: 21-22 November 2002

by Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA

Introduction

Good morning everyone and welcome to the first global parliamentarians conference on the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action since the Hague Forum in 1999.

I would like to thank all of you very much for accepting our invitation to participate in such an important event. Your presence demonstrates your commitment and support. I would also like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the Canadian Association of Parliamentarians on Population and Development and the other regional and global parliamentary groups for hosting this conference. Gratitude also goes to the Canadian International Development Agency and the Hewlett Foundation for their generous support in making this Conference possible. In particular, I would like to thank Minister Jean Augustine, Canada's Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and the Status of Women; Minister Susan Whelan, Secretary of State for International Cooperation; Senator Rose-Marie Losier-Cool of the Canadian Association; and Dr. Hernan Sanhueza of the Inter-American Parliamentary Group. In addition, I would be remiss if I were not to mention and thank UNFPA staff member, Harumi Kodama, who literally worked day and night to bring this Conference together.

Today more than 130 parliamentarians and ministers are gathered here from dozens of countries from every region of the globe. As Parliamentarians and Ministers, you are very important people because you represent the people in your countries and advocate for their rights and needs. As Parliamentarians, you are uniquely placed to offer leadership. You have influence at the highest levels of government, in civil society and the grassroots among individual men and women. You are the voices of the people and their natural link to their governments. Your presence here is most gratifying.

It is my sincere hope that you will use this opportunity to reaffirm and strengthen your commitment to the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development. The goals set in Cairo - to provide universal access to reproductive health and primary education, reduce maternal mortality and HIV/AIDS and advance gender equality --remain essential and affordable. We must also acknowledge that the ICPD Programme of Action and the key actions identified in its five-year review provide a solid foundation and are key to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. ICPD was visionary in its clear understanding of the present and realistic objectives for the future.

This Conference is about implementing the ICPD Programme of Action. We need increased commitment. We do not need renegotiation; we do not need changes to an already strong recommendations. We need to stay on track in line with the hard-won consensus that was hammered out by 179 conscientious countries for a blueprint for a better life for all - for women and men, old and young, rich and poor. More specifically it is a blueprint to protect and advance gender equality and to give all people the opportunity to plan their families, have safe pregnancies and deliveries, protect themselves from HIV/AIDS, and to stabilize global population by choice and not by any other means. Together we must fulfil that commitment. You are the ones best positioned to fulfil that commitment. Every country, whether large or small, wealthy or poor, developing or developed, must do their part. This is the true meaning of partnership; this is the spirit of international cooperation.

Parliamentary Partners

Since the Cairo Conference, we have collectively made progress in many areas and we should feel proud of our accomplishments. Today many countries are incorporating population, gender and reproductive health into their national development plans and policies.

As parliamentary leaders, you have played an indispensable role.

The high level of institutionalization and coordination of international parliamentary activities in the field of population and development is extremely unique. It is so unique that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has asked us to share our model of partnership with the entire United Nations system.

Today every region has a parliamentary group on population and development, joined by parliamentary groups at the global and national levels. Together we have built an active, growing global network and together we will continue to move forward.

At this point, I would like to thank you warmly and sincerely for your dedication and commitment. The letters of concern that you sent in July after the United States Government announced its decision to withhold funding were deeply appreciated. I would also like to congratulate you for the united front you displayed to advance our common cause at last year's General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS, at this year's Special Session on Children, and most recently in Johannesburg at the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

Just as important as your work at the global level, is your work in your home countries and communities. Those of you in donor countries play a key role in mobilizing the political support needed to secure financial resources to move the ICPD agenda forward.

Enabling Environment

As parliamentarians in developing countries, you play an indispensable role in creating an enabling environment for population and development. Since Cairo, dozens of countries have formulated new national population policies or integrated population into their long-term development plans.

By drafting and passing legislation for population, reproductive health and rights and women's equality, you move these issues beyond the realm of theory to the books of law. Since Cairo, 67 countries have taken policy measures, passed laws or changed institutions to promote reproductive health and rights. By creating and carrying out policies and programmes that are in line with the Cairo agenda, you move words from the pages in a United Nations document to real action on the ground-action that makes a difference in people's everyday lives.

From the passage of legislation banning female genital cutting, to the adoption of laws against violence against women, progress is being made on a steady basis. From the training of skilled birth attendants to the dispatch of peer counsellors to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, lives are being saved. And from mass media campaigns to the sensitization of police and justice officials, the spirit of Cairo is being spread through villages and towns in every region.

In the Philippines, the Government's population policy seeks a balance between population, resources and the environment. Through it, the Government acts to reduce environmental degradation, poverty, gender inequality and population growth. In Nigeria, the Ahmadu Bello Hospital has found a way to bring the ICPD agenda to the city of Zaria. With limited resources, the hospital has adopted an integrated, client-centred approach to family planning and reproductive health care. In Turkey, efforts have involved fathers in promoting post-partum health at the Istanbul Medical School Hospital. As a result, couples have increased communication with each other on issues related to pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum health.

Since Cairo, some 76 countries have reported taking significant measures to improve gender equality, including laws to protect rights in employment and inheritance, laws to ban harmful traditional practices, tougher laws on violence against women and the creation or strengthening of women's affairs office in government. Dozens of countries have taken action to promote primary education of the girl child.

Need for Stronger Commitment

But although we have made much progress, we would be deceiving ourselves if we were to think that this progress is sufficient.

Today over one billion people live in extreme poverty on less than $1 a day, and another one billion people will be added to global population-almost all in poor countries-by the time we are expected to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in 2015. Today more than 800 million people go to bed hungry every night and water scarcity is a growing concern. The challenge we face is to ensure a better quality of life for the people who live in poverty today and to ensure a good quality of life for the billion people who will be added to our planet by the year 2015. This demands substantial economic growth, the protection of life-sustaining natural resources, and the strengthening of society, its institutions and people.

My friends, we cannot confront today's massive challenges of poverty, hunger, disease, and environmental destruction, unless we address the issues of population and reproductive health.

Reproductive Health and Rights

Poor reproductive health is a leading cause of death and disability for women in the developing world and it remains one of the most neglected areas of public health. According to a new report by the World Health Organization, unsafe sex is the second leading cause of illness and death worldwide. Today 350 million women are denied access to a range of safe and effective family planning methods. Today 58 million women give birth without any medical help or skilled attendants. And this lack of basic reproductive health services results in tremendous human suffering and exacerbates poverty at both the household and national levels.

Today, each and every minute 380 women become pregnant; and half of them did not plan or wish the pregnancy. Each minute, 110 women experience a pregnancy related complication. Each minute 100 women have an abortion, 40 of which are unsafe. Each minute, 10 people are newly infected with HIV/AIDS, half of them young people, mostly young women, and every minute, one woman dies from a pregnancy related cause.

Access to reproductive health care is a matter of life and death. Providing universal access will reduce the rates of maternal and infant mortality in line with the Millennium Development Goals. It is also a matter of human rights. Every woman and couple have the right to determine the number, timing and spacing of their children and to have the means to do so. And every woman has the right to make decisions regarding reproduction free of discrimination, violence and coercion. These internationally agreed reproductive rights are basic human rights-rights that unfortunately continue to be violated systematically and on a massive scale-and rights that absolutely must be upheld.

ICPD and Gender Equality

Today women comprise two-thirds of the world's poor and illiterate. In all parts of the world, women are facing threats to their lives, health and well-being because they are overworked and undervalued and because they lack power and influence. The poverty they face is deeper than income poverty. It is a poverty of opportunity, freedom and choices. Many are stuck in a life where they remain barefoot and pregnant, unable to read, unable to manage their fertility and unable to determine the number and spacing of their children. In addition, millions of girls and women suffer from gender violence and trafficking.

The full and equal participation of women in all aspects of society and the eradication of all forms of discrimination are stated priority objectives of the international community. Now is the time to reaffirm and strengthen our commitment to gender equality and the empowerment of women and take action that will have a real impact. Education, access to secure livelihoods and economic resources, legal rights and health care are absolutely critical. Experience shows that population and development programmes are most effective when steps have simultaneously been taken to improve the status of women.

MDGs and ICPD

If we are serious about meeting the Millennium Development Goals, we must reaffirm and renew commitment to the ICPD Programme of Action. Whether in a developed or developing country, all of us here in this room understand that population is a cross-cutting issue affecting all other development issues. The state of the environment, peace and security, the standard of living, and economic development are all impacted by population dynamics such as migration, ageing, urbanization and population growth.

However, we all know that population is not a question of numbers. It is a question of people and helping them to help themselves, so they can make their own choices and realize their dreams.

Role of UNFPA

For more than thirty-three years, it has been the work of UNFPA to ensure that women can plan their families, survive birth and have healthy babies, and more recently to ensure that people can protect themselves from HIV/AIDS. UNFPA provides support to 142 countries, at their request, to address issues of reproductive health and population and raises awareness of these issues.

UNFPA enjoys the trust and respect of governments and NGOs alike. We are respected for our universality, political neutrality, and our cultural sensitivity. We respect local cultures and we respect international human rights and we are against coercion everywhere.

Today, more than eight years after the 1994 Cairo Conference, the challenge to ensure universal access to reproductive health services has grown even more urgent as the largest ever youth generation enters their reproductive years and HIV/AIDS continues to spread, creating massive suffering and destruction in its wake.

Adolescent Reproductive Health and HIV/AIDS

Today there are over 1 billion young people on our planet between the ages of 15 and 24 in or entering their reproductive years. Too many are growing up in poverty, in conflict, or in environments where there is little opportunity or hope for a productive and dignified life. This is the very first young generation in human history that grows up with HIV/AIDS, death and orphaned and/or abandoned children as part of their every day life. During the next decade, 600 million girls will become adolescents. Early marriage, teenage pregnancy, sexual exploitation and infection with a sexually transmitted infection, including HIV/AIDS, are real problems that demand real answers.

Each year, 15 to 17 million adolescent girls get pregnant and over 4 million resort to abortion, 40 per cent of which are performed under unsafe conditions. Every minute five young people are newly infected with HIV/AIDS. The adolescents and youth of today are in desperate need of reliable and factual information and a full range of quality services to protect their health and their futures.

Together we must scale up our collective and national responses to HIV/AIDS. In countries that are hard-hit, millions of people are suffering and societies are literally coming unravelled. And while men are mainly responsible for spreading infection, it is women who are being hit the hardest and this is exacerbated because women are the poorest of the poor. As a co-sponsor of UNAIDS, UNFPA is focused on HIV prevention. Together we must scale up our response to turn back the tide of infection. AIDS is a global emergency that demands a global response.

ICPD Funding

However, despite growing needs, funding is not keeping pace. At the International Conference on Population and Development, governments determined how much money was needed for population and reproductive health. They decided that the world should provide $17 billion by the year 2000 but so far, only 66 per cent of the funding goal has been reached, even though we are two years past the target date.

International donors have contributed less than half of the target funding, 45 per cent of the $5.7 billion that was expected. Programme countries have contributed 76 per cent of their share, highlighting their commitment. Overall, UNFPA's core funding has dropped by 26% since 1995, the year following the ICPD, when we had fully expected an increase by this time of upwards of 100%.

Of course, UNFPA is not the only victim of the overall decline in official development assistance that has occurred since the end of the Cold War. But as we mobilize to reduce poverty, gender inequality and maternal mortality, we must increase our commitment to the Cairo Programme of Action.

If Governments had kept up with their commitments, UNFPA would have resources of at least $500 million at this time and IPPF would have at least $200 million. As it is, the two combined are only about $350 million, far short of what is needed to meet current demands and international goals. If governments continued to give at their highest levels, UNFPA's core budget today would be $365 million, instead of $248 million.

As you know, the United States Administration this year cut $34 million in funding for UNFPA that had been approved by the U.S. Congress. The loss of $34 million will be devastating for women and families in the poorest countries. Women around the world count on the UN Population Fund for ensuring health services during pregnancy and birth, for voluntary family planning, and for services to protect them from HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. In concrete terms, we estimate that $34 million for reproductive health and family planning would be enough to prevent: 2 million unwanted pregnancies nearly 800,000 induced abortions 4,700 maternal deaths nearly 60,000 cases of serious maternal illness, and over 77,000 infant and child deaths.

There is no doubt that these are difficult and challenging times, but it is only through balanced development that we can save lives, increase opportunities, expand hope and create a better, more stable world for all. The Cairo Programme of Action was a hard-won victory and it is a victory for which we should all be proud.

Controversy/Dissent

However, there are those who question the ICPD consensus and UNFPA's role. One vocal group has gone so far as to state that it wants to drive the final nail in UNFPA's coffin and to close the tap that brings funding to UNFPA. Unfortunately, their campaign has become systematic and global, and has been given a voice in the legislatures of our major donors. These groups claim to oppose abortion, but they refuse to acknowledge that the only effective counter to abortion is to promote reproductive health in all its aspects, including family planning. My friends, we must not allow a very small but very determined and vocal group of ideologues to reverse progress for women and dilute international human rights and the Cairo consensus.

To those who oppose the ICPD Programme of Action and to those who oppose UNFPA with lies and false accusations, I ask you one question: What if these faceless women, men and young people around the world were members of your own family? I suggest to you that they are…because we are all living in one global village. We are one human family that is dangerously separated between the haves and have-nots.

UNFPA rests solidly on the bedrock of internationally accepted standards of human rights, and all our programmes conform to those standards.

The agreements adopted by consensus at the Cairo Conference and its five year review represent a balanced and pragmatic approach to population and development issues-an approach centred on human rights and sustainable development. Together these agreements address the needs of all stakeholders: including governments, individuals, families, young people, parents, civic leaders, and all major religions. The ICPD Programme of Action therefore finds space and gives attention to everything from abstinence to meeting the unmet needs for family planning to making abortion safe "in circumstances where abortion is not against the law", while acknowledging that "in no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning." UNFPA does not provide support for abortion services and never has despite what our opponents claim. We do, however, provide support for treating the complications of unsafe abortion to save women's lives.

Now let me be clear. Contrary to what critics claim, the ICPD Programme of Action does not contain a hidden agenda or any secret codes. The language is extremely clear. The ICPD Programme of Action states, and I quote: "All Governments and relevant intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations are urged to strengthen their commitment to women's health, to deal with the health impact of unsafe abortion as a major public health concern and to reduce the recourse to abortion through expanded and improved family planning services. Prevention of unwanted pregnancies must always be given the highest priority and every attempt should be made to eliminate the need for abortion." Unquote.

This is exactly what all of us in this room are doing and we must stay on track.

The agreements reached by consensus in Cairo in 1994 and New York in 1999 stress the importance of improving the reproductive health of adolescents, who remain vulnerable, particularly given the spread of HIV/AIDS. The agreements recognize the sensitivity of these issues and also the importance of addressing them in a sensitive and pragmatic manner so that we can meet real human needs and save individual lives.

While the Cairo document is sometimes perceived as radical, it is really only radical against the backdrop of the realities in our world today-a world where great inequality, discrimination, poverty, violence, conflict and disease continue to take an unacceptably high toll, a world where exclusion and disfranchisement are the lot of the poor and the disadvantaged.

As Parliamentarian, you are uniquely placed to offer leadership in all the matters I have mentioned. You can represent the thoughts, feelings and needs of your constituents to government; and you can explain to your electorate the need for international action. You can reach out to your colleagues in other countries, build partnerships and strengthen their efforts to solve the problems of population and development that in the end affect us all.

So let us reaffirm and strengthen our commitment to the ICPD Programme of Action and the key actions adopted at the five-year review. Let us work together to stay on track, to expand effective partnerships and to lead with vision and vigour. The current bulge in the youth population presents an unprecedented opportunity for growth and transformation if there is a concerted, massive investment in education, employment, and health care, including reproductive health.

As leaders, we have a responsibility to this generation to live up to our commitments. The young people all over the world are looking us with one question- will we deliver our promises to them for a better life. Yes, we can all say. But that is not sufficient. We must go beyond words - to action. We must DO all that we can so that we show how we are working hard to change the present and to create hope in the future.

Yes we can do it together- and you only, as Parliamentarians, can transform the voices of the people into action by governments. Thank you.