Policy-Making too Important to leave to Governments alone, Dhaka Round Table Told.

United Nations Population Fund
Contact: in New York:
Alex Marshall
Fax: (212) 557-6416

Abubakar Dungus
William Ryan

The ICPD+5 review process

UNFPA Executive Director Stresses
Need to Broaden Participation and Overcome Mistrust among Partners

DHAKA, Bangladesh, 27 July -- The Speaker of Parliament of Bangladesh and leading figures in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare today joined the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in opening the Round Table on Partnership with Civil Society in the Implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action. More than 250 people heard their opening statements, including about 70 round-table participants from some 40 countries.

The 27-30 July meeting is the third in a series of round tables, organized by UNFPA as part of ICPD+5, a year-long evaluation of progress made in the five years since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo. Participants will assess achievements and constraints in involving civil society in the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action, and propose key future actions to carry forward the progress made so far.

The meeting will feature presentations on four themes around which working groups have been formed: Partnership to create an enabling environment for carrying out the Programme of Action; Social mobilization to promote and carry out the Programme; Partnership for capacity-strengthening, accountability, coalition-building and financial stability; and Partnership to promote full access to reproductive health services.

In her opening address, UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Nafis Sadik said there is widespread agreement today on the value of development partnerships between governments and "civil society" -- including "non-governmental organizations and other private associations, community institutions, religious leaders, business associations, professional groups, trade unions, media, and various activist groups and individuals, among others"; the Programme of Action, she noted, emphasizes the need for such partnerships.

A key aim of the round table, she stressed, is to find creative ways to build the widest possible range of constituencies to promote the Cairo consensus. Achieving this goal depends on overcoming mistrust between partners.

"Governments are sometimes leery of activist groups because of their potential for opposition and disruption," Dr. Sadik said. "Such groups on the other hand, are sometimes strident in their criticisms, alienating potential partners. What we need are dialogue, cooperation and synergy."

UNFPA has been working with civil society groups, especially non-governmental organizations (NGOs), for more than 15 years, and has accepted hundreds of NGOs as executing agencies for UNFPA-supported projects, the Executive Director said. More than 15 per cent of its current allocations are for projects directly executed by such groups, with much higher proportions in some country programmes (53 per cent in Haiti, 40 per cent in South Africa and 32 per cent in Egypt, for instance).

Dr. Sadik said NGOs and other sectors of civil society can help win support for and help design programmes, lobby for better quality programmes, monitor service delivery, mobilize resources and advocate changes in laws, policies and guidelines. The private sector, for example, can play roles that go beyond the manufacture and distribution of contraceptive products; private employers can educate their staff on issues such as gender-based violence and human rights. Religious and community leaders can also make a difference, she added. For example, the spiritual leader of Al-Azhar University in Egypt supported reproductive health when he declared that family planning does not contravene the Koran.

In his address to the opening session, the chief guest and Speaker of the Bangladeshi Parliament, Humayun Rashid Chowdhury, said the race to slow population growth has become an absorbing topic of discussion across many sectors of society. Economic problems and increasing population, he said, are placing increasing stress on many countries’ ability to continue developing; resource mobilization and partnership with various actors in civil society are therefore critical to efforts to check today’s unprecedented rates of population growth.

Lawmakers’ involvement in that endeavour is crucial, he continued, since they represent the people of their respective countries, whose support is required for all measures to meet the goals of the ICPD Programme of Action. Bangladesh can make significant contributions to ICPD implementation even as it tackles the low standard of living of its hard-core poor, provides emergency assistance to children, strives to reduce malnutrition and poverty, and works to empower women.

The Minister of Health and Family Welfare, SalahuddinYusuf, reported that, in line with ICPD recommendations, Bangladesh has recently unified its health and family planning programmes, as part of its effort to accelerate development to keep pace with population growth. Since its founding in 1971, he said, the country has lowered fertility and improved child health care; its contraceptive prevalence rate has risen by 50 per cent, fertility has dropped to 3.3 children per woman, child immunization has jumped from 10 to 70 per cent, and deaths of children under 5 have been cut considerably. But Bangladesh still has a 1.7 per cent growth rate, and its population will increase from 124 million people to nearly 220 million in the next 50 years. The Government looks forward to recommendations from the round table to help it alleviate poverty, he added.

The Secretary of the same ministry, Muhammed Ali, said Bangladesh feels the pressure of population growth due to lack of resources and land, making intervention in population necessary to develop human resources. The Government has made significant progress in lowering mortality among mothers and children, set up programmes to tackle its population- and poverty-related problems, and created mechanisms for implementing the ICPD Programme of Action.

Since Cairo, it has introduced a client-centred reproductive health care approach which Mr. Ali said will increase the cost-effective use of resources, give clients a "one-stop shopping" option for reproductive health and other basic services, improve the quality of services, and increase access for the poor, women and children.

Civil society was represented in the opening session by Fazle Hasan Abed, founder and Executive Director of a Bangladeshi NGO called BRAC. He said his group’s efforts to increase women’s access to income had improved their health and reduced their fertility. Along with income- and employment-generation, BRAC works with community organizations of the poor, helping to raise awareness of social issues, and providing microcredit, health care, training and capacity development for poor women. With 20,000 full-time staff, it works in 50,000 villages in Bangladesh and provides financial and technical support to 2.5 million women, giving them loans of some $150 million in 1997 alone. Under its health programme, BRAC covers 34 million people in more than 25,000 villages.

"Cairo is synonymous with inclusiveness, cooperation and consensus," he continued, and civil society groups should help spread the message of the Programme of Action. Men and women should also be organized into partnerships to build better futures for women; such an alliance must start immediately, he added. "The lesson we have from BRAC is that we have to build from our own successes and learn from our failures," he said. "For this partnership to succeed, we must not forget the need for capacity building in the civil society organizations."

Also attending the opening session were the State Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Dr. M. Amanullah, and members of Bangladesh’s Parliament.

(For information purposes only. Not an official document.)

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