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KEY MESSAGES: Launch of The State of World Population Report 2005

1. Gender Equality and Poverty Reduction
2. The Human Rights of Women
3. Reproductive Health and Poverty Reduction
4. HIV/AIDS: Women and Young People
5. Family Planning
6. Adolescents and Youth
7. Aftermath of Conflicts and Natural Disasters
8. Key Recommendations
  • Poverty levels are appalling, affecting nearly half the world’s population. At last month’s United Nations Summit, the world’s governments came together like never before to ‘make poverty history’. And making poverty history means making gender discrimination history. Progress for women is progress for all.

  • Investing in women, young people and reproductive health is necessary to accelerate poverty reduction and development - for this and future generations.

    • Without attention to these critical issues, global poverty and development goals cannot be met.

    • Women and young people represent a huge share of the world’s population and are key to reducing poverty. They are at the very heart of development. Yet both groups lack voice and power when decisions are made regarding policy and spending priorities.

    • Reducing poverty requires a healthy population freed from the enormous burden of reproductive health problems, including HIV/AIDS. Reproductive health problems – including HIV/AIDS - are the leading cause of death and illness for women of childbearing age worldwide.

    • Gender inequality and poor reproductive health pose huge – though avoidable – costs to societies and economies. These costs are highest for the poorest countries – especially for women, adolescent girls and their families.

    • Removing discrimination against women and girls, and overcoming poor reproductive health, can reduce poverty and unleash human potential and productivity.
  • The world cannot afford to continue on a slow track for gender equality. Fulfilling the promise of equal rights for women and girls - made over half a century ago with the founding of the United Nations - holds the key to solving many of today’s global challenges.

    • When women are educated, healthy and employed, and able to make decisions about childbearing and reproductive life, everyone benefits. The promotion of equality is not only an end in itself, but a powerful force for lifting individuals, families, communities and nations out of poverty.

    • Reducing inequality is necessary for greater economic efficiency and prosperity.

    • Discrimination and violence against women is fueling HIV/AIDS. Today, the face of AIDS is increasingly female, and increasingly young.

    • Violence against women and girls is a silent epidemic of alarming proportions. It condemns millions of women and girls to live in fear. Beyond the immeasurable suffering it causes, it also robs countries of women’s full socio-economic participation.
  • Investing in young people is one of the smartest investments any country can make – both for the short and long term.

  • For a modest pricetag, we can make poverty history, save women’s and children’s lives, and spare young people from the scourge of HIV/AIDS. All countries need to follow through on their promises to women and young people, by investing in their educational, economic and political opportunities, their reproductive health and safety.



Gender equality - the equal rights of women and men – is not only an end in itself, but is a prerequisite for lifting individuals, families, communities and nations out of poverty and accelerating development.

  • Discrimination against women and girls squanders the individual capabilities of up to half the population, limiting their full contributions to national development. Today, there are 1.7 billion women between the ages of 15 and 49.

  • Key strategies include promoting women’s education, reproductive health and economic and political rights, and ending violence against women.

  • Educating girls – especially at secondary or higher levels–offers high payoffs in terms of poverty reduction, the educational and health status of the next generation, HIV prevention, infant and maternal health, income-earning prospects, reduced fertility and the elimination of harmful practices.

    • Every year of mothers’ education corresponds with a 5-10 per cent drop in infant mortality rates.

    • Every three years of additional education correlates with up to one less child per woman.

  • Most women are partial, primary or sole breadwinners for themselves and their families. Research shows that when women control family income, they tend to invest more in their children than do men.

  • When women are able to delay marriage and childbearing, complete their education and enter the workforce, smaller families, increased savings and enhanced socio-economic prosperity can result. This was a driving force behind the economic miracle of the ‘Asian Tigers’.


The world cannot afford to continue on a slow track to gender equality. Many promises have been made to realize the equal rights of women and girls since the founding of the United Nations 60 years ago. Despite considerable progress, much more remains to be done to bridge the gap between rhetoric and the reality faced by millions of women and girls worldwide.

One of the greatest achievements of the 20th Century was the creation of an international human rights system in which the rights of all are equal. While many countries have made progress, in particular in passing policies and laws and improving access to education and healthcare, the promise of human rights has not translated into practice for millions of women and girls:

  • Violence against women and girls is a silent global epidemic of alarming proportions: 1 in 3 women is beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused, usually by a family member or an acquaintance. Gender-based violence continues largely unabated in rich and poor countries alike. Impunity for violators is common, leaving women and girls with little recourse.

  • Almost two-thirds of the world’s 800 million illiterate adults are women. Of the 137 million illiterate youth (15-24), 63 per cent are female.

  • Globally, women hold only 16 per cent of parliamentary seats – dismal progress since 1990 when women’s political participation was 12 per cent. Some developing countries have made huge strides: Rwanda, for example, has the highest proportion of women parliamentarians in the world (49 per cent), surpassing Sweden (45 per cent).

  • Many countries have missed the 2005 target, set at the 1995 UN Fourth World Conference on Women, to revoke discriminatory legislation. In many countries, women lack equal social, economic and political rights, including within marriage and the family. In many poor countries, women are barred from owning property, land or inheriting from deceased husbands – fueling further impoverishment and exploitation for widows and their children, and the spread of HIV where it is already generalized.

  • Although many countries are working to promote gender equality, efforts often remain small scale and poorly funded.

  • Fostering a supportive partnership with boys and men is essential if gender equality and poverty reduction are ever to be realized. Because men wield preponderant decision-making power, achieving equality in political and economic life, as well as within the family, ending violence against women and stopping the AIDS epidemic, all hinge on social transformations that foster shared responsibility and respect for the rights of women and girls.


Universal access to reproductive health – as agreed by 179 governments at the 1994 UN International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) – is key to reducing poverty, improving quality of life for all, promoting gender equality and raising productivity.

Reproductive health conditions – including HIV/AIDS - are the leading cause of death and illness in women worldwide (15-44 years of age), and the second leading cause of death and illness when both men and women of reproductive age are taken into account.

  • Impoverished women and adolescent girls living in poor countries pay the highest price – too often with their own lives. Sexual and reproductive health conditions represent 32 per cent of all causes of death and illness in women worldwide.

  • Every year, 250 million years of productive life are lost as a result of reproductive health problems. Countries already struggling with poverty pay a high price through high costs to public budgets and eroded productivity.

  • Reproductive health is a matter of equity and human rights: No other area of health reflects such glaring disparities and inequities between rich and poor, both within and among countries.

  • Reproductive health problems reflect the impact of poverty and gender discrimination on women’s lives:

    • Half a million women die from pregnancy-related complications each year;

    • 76 million unplanned pregnancies occur in the developing world alone;

    • 19 million unsafe abortions, resulting in permanent injuries and deaths;

    • The feminization of HIV/AIDS – with the numbers of women infected, especially young women, rising rapidly;

    • Obstetric fistula, a debilitating condition that affects over 2 million adolescent girls and women.

These problems are all largely preventable. The solution lies in empowering women and improving access to reproductive health care in ways that wealthier people and countries take for granted.


HIV/AIDS is decimating communities and afflicting people in their most productive years. While the epidemic initially affected mostly men, today the face of AIDS is increasingly female, and increasingly young.

  • Almost half of the 40 million people living with HIV today are women. The HIV/AIDS epidemic is fueled by poverty, discrimination and violence against women. Three quarters of all new cases of HIV are sexually transmitted between men and women, pointing to gender inequality, and men’s decision-making control, at the center of the epidemic.

  • Contrary to the common belief that married women are ‘safe’, many have been infected by their only partner: In sub-Saharan Africa, 60-80 per cent of HIV-positive women have been infected by their husbands.

  • Young people under the age of 25 represent almost a quarter of all people living with HIV. Half of all new HIV cases are among young people aged 15 to 24 – with 6,000 infected every day.

  • Young women are especially at risk: In sub-Saharan Africa, young women between the ages of 15 and 24 represent 76 per cent of all young people living with HIV. In the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, about 70 per cent of all young people living with HIV are women.


Family planning is a human right, central to women’s ability to shape their own destinies and to lift their families out of poverty. It is one of the wisest and most cost-effective investments any country can make.

  • Family planning allows women to delay childbearing so they can complete their education, participate in the workforce and acquire skills and experience.

  • Family planning contributes to the quality of life (through smaller family size) of both individuals and families; reduced hunger; reduced infant and maternal mortality; HIV prevention (through access to information and condoms); social and economic development; and balancing natural resources with the needs of the population (through slower population growth).

  • Family planning matters for poverty reduction: Countries have a one-time window of opportunity to benefit from the `demographic dividend’: As families get smaller, and as a large number of young people enter their productive years with less dependents, the result can be increased savings and investments per child if sound social and economic policies are in place. One-third of the economic growth of the ‘Asian Tigers’ between 1965 and 1990 has been attributed to this ‘dividend’. And poverty could be reduced by 14 per cent in developing countries by 2015 as result of demographic dividends.

  • In the developing world, fertility rates have dropped from an average of over six births per woman in the 1960s to under three today. But in the poorest countries, women still have five children on average.

  • Some 201 million women lack access to effective contraceptives. Given the option, many would use family planning. In Africa, only 20 per cent of married women use modern methods of contraception – compared to 54 per cent globally.

  • World population is expected to increase from 6.5 billion today to 9.1 billion by 2050. Most of this growth will occur in the 50 poorest countries, where the population is expected to more than double.


Today’s generation of young people (under 25) is the largest in human history – 3 billion, nearly half the global population. Investing in young people is one of the most strategic investments any country can make for the short and long term. Yet policy-makers have largely ignored the fact that young people can be a powerful force for poverty reduction and development.

  • 85 per cent of youth (ages 15-24) live in developing countries. The poorest countries have the highest percentage of young people. Over 500 million youth live in poverty, subsisting on less than $2 per day. Asia is home to 70 per cent of the developing world’s young people. Limited opportunities for obtaining an education, skills-building and employment, coupled with risks of HIV infection, exploitation and violence, characterize the lives of millions of young people living in poverty.

    • Failure to make the necessary investments in today’s young people will have long-term repercussions on individual lives, health systems, security, population growth and economies, and could entrench poverty for decades to come. On the other hand, investing in young people can lead to increased productivity and socio-economic development.

    • Youth comprise half of the world’s unemployed. Large numbers of unemployed youth can be a recipe for persistent poverty, the continued spread of HIV, inequality and civil unrest.
  • Today’s adolescents, numbering 1.2 billion (10 to 19 years of age), are at a critical stage in life. Decisions made today for their well-being will reverberate for generations to come.

    • Adolescents are entering their productive and reproductive years. Investments in forging an educated, skilled and healthy young population with employment prospects can give poverty reduction and development a powerful boost. But adolescents are often a missing link in policies and budgets: Investments in childhood may be lost without sustained attention to adolescents as they transition into adulthood.

    • While many adolescents are growing up in nurturing environments, poverty places millions at risk and limits their life prospects. They may be forced to forgo an education in order to help their families make ends meet; are often at risk of being forcibly recruited as child soldiers or sexual slaves; sexually or commercially exploited; orphaned; or abandoned altogether.
  • Over 1 billion adolescents (10-19 years of age) are entering their reproductive years. Most will become sexually active before their 20th birthday, many within the context of marriage. They urgently need reproductive health information and services to prevent early and unplanned pregnancies, unsafe abortions, maternal deaths and injuries, and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.

  • Adolescent girls, especially those living in poverty, should be a priority group for reducing poverty and advancing gender equality:

    • Girls are more likely than boys to be withdrawn from school as a result of poverty and discrimination, as well as due to early pregnancy and child marriage. This compromises future prospects to escape poverty for both themselves and their children. While gender gaps in education are closing worldwide, in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa only 69 and 49 per cent of girls respectively complete primary school; at the secondary level, these figures are even lower – only 47 and 30 per cent of girls are enrolled in school.

    • Adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation, ‘survival sex’ and trafficking; and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting. Nearly 50 per cent of sexual assaults worldwide involve girls 15 years of age and younger.

    • About 14 million adolescent girls (15 to 19) give birth every year. Adolescent girls are two to five times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth than women in their twenties. In developing countries, between one quarter and one half of adolescent girls are mothers before they turn 18. Family planning can mean the difference between early pregnancy and an education.

    • Adolescents undergo 5 million unsafe abortions every year as a result of unwanted pregnancy. Forty per cent of all unsafe abortions in the developing world among this age group occurred in sub-Saharan Africa.

    • In the next 10 years, 100 million adolescent girls are likely to be married before their 18th birthday. Most are among the poorest of the poor. Married adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to dropping out of school, early childbearing, HIV infection from older husbands, and sexual violence.


In the aftermath of conflicts and natural disasters, women and young people are often overlooked as key actors in peace-building and reconstruction. But their active political and economic participation offers a real opportunity to construct lasting peace, reduce poverty and enhance development.

  • Since 2000, conflict has erupted in 40 countries. Many of the poorest countries are those in or emerging from conflict. Roughly half of countries that emerge from war lapse back into violence within five years.

  • Almost 2 billion people were affected by natural disasters during the 1990s. More than one million were displaced by the 2004 tsunami in East Asia.

  • Of the world’s 11 million refugees and 25 million internally displaced persons, 80 per cent are women and children. Women and girls are especially vulnerable to sexual violence, exploitation and trafficking – during emergencies and in their aftermath, including within refugee camps.

  • The internally displaced are particularly vulnerable to destitution and assault: international law offers no effective protection because they have not crossed borders. At the United Nations World Summit, governments agreed to help protect the human rights of internally displaced persons.

  • Following the end of conflict, widows and children are often left destitute and comprise a large share of the population.

    • Young people have grown up in war, instead of in school: Half of the world’s out of school children live in conflict or post-conflict countries.

    • Many women and girls have been brutally raped and forcibly impregnated, traumatized and often rejected by their own families and communities. They are vulnerable to sexual exploitation and trafficking, and to ‘survival sex’, in order to provide for both themselves and their children.
  • Reproductive health problems – including HIV/AIDS and maternal mortality – often skyrocket as a result of emergency situations.

    • In Sudan, an estimated 1 in 9 pregnant women died in 2003 during childbirth.

    • In Rwanda, rape during the 1994 genocide intensified the country’s HIV epidemic: an estimated 67 per cent of the half million women and girls raped became infected with HIV.

    • Women and young people are especially at risk. Providing reproductive health in emergencies, and restoring national health systems in their aftermath, can save the lives of women and newborns, prevent the further transmission of HIV/AIDS and other serious health conditions.

Women and young people represent sizeable shares of these populations (and potential workforce) with pressing needs. But they are often ignored when peace negotiations and reconstruction plans are drawn up. Women and young people can and do play crucial roles in reconciliation and forging stability, if provided with conducive education, health, economic and political opportunities.


  • Gender equality and reproductive health are not only prerequisites for poverty reduction, but also key to accelerating development.

  • Investing in women and youth is critical to the goals of poverty reduction, lasting peace, and national and human security.

  • Strengthening health systems so that they benefit the poor constitutes a major share of the anti-poverty package. This means redoubling efforts and resources to fulfill the 1994 ICPD commitment of reproductive health for all. The World Health Organization has already warned that unless concerted effort is undertaken to meet global healthcare goals, the 2015 deadline set by the governments of the world will be missed -- at great cost to individuals, societies, and countries’ productive capacities.

  • Over 250 leading global experts came together to advise the UN Secretary-General on the way forward on ‘making poverty history’. Their conclusions, released in early 2005, were clear: Gender equality and reproductive health are prerequisites for poverty reduction.

    • Among their recommended ‘quick wins ’ are: the elimination of school and health care fees for the poor; expanded access to sexual and reproductive health services; provision of family planning supplies; national campaigns to end violence against women; and the involvement of women in developing national poverty reduction plans.
  • It is critical to mobilize additional resources for HIV prevention – the first line of defense to halt the epidemic – as well as for treatment and care for those already infected. Combating HIV/AIDS requires combating gender inequality.

  • HIV/AIDS and reproductive health programmes have tended to operate separately from each other. Yet people need an essential package of services that both meets their needs for HIV prevention and treatment, as well as addresses other critical areas of their reproductive lives - such as preventing maternal deaths and unintended pregnancies. Strengthening linkages between reproductive health and HIV/AIDS programmes is thus both ethical and potentially cost-effective.

  • Developing countries face critical shortfalls of contraceptives and condoms. Despite the important role that family planning plays in poverty reduction, donor support has been declining since 1995. In 2003, donor support paid for the equivalent of one condom per man for the entire year in the developing world - and six per man in sub-Saharan Africa where donor support is greatest and HIV is most widespread. As population size and demand for family planning grows, and AIDS prevention efforts intensify, these shortfalls become all the more pressing.

  • The pricetag for human dignity and saving lives is modest (well under $200 billion per year) and paltry compared to what the world spends on the military ($1 trillion per year) or pours into agricultural trade subsidies. In the course of 2005, promising initiatives by donor countries have included agreements to reduce debt, increase aid over the coming years – including a doubling of aid for Africa – and other schemes to raise additional resources.

  • The pricetag is modest indeed:

    • For under fifty cents a day per person living in extreme poverty - less than what a cup of coffee costs in many developed countries – one billion people can be lifted out of poverty over the next ten years.

    • And improving and saving the lives of one billion of the world’s poorest people is less than the total projected costs for reconstruction following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

About the Title: The world’s governments have made many promises on gender equality and equity, and access to reproductive health. But progress has been uneven. Promoting the equal rights, opportunities and choices for women and men holds the promise of human rights, human dignity and freedom from want and fear.

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