Latin America and the Caribbean Are Set to Fulfill the Vision of Well-being and Dignity Set Out in Cairo 19 Years Ago

13 Aug 2013

Opening remarks by UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin during the Latin America and Caribbean ICPD review Conference in Montevideo, Uruguay

As prepared for delivery

Excellency, Jose Mujica, President of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay
Honorable Minister Luis Almagro, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Honorable Dr. Leonel Briozzo, Vice Minister of Health
Ms. Alicia Barcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean
Distinguished delegates and participants,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my honour and pleasure to be with you today for the opening of the Regional Conference on Population and Development of Latin America and the Caribbean, dedicated to the review of the implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and its follow up beyond 2014.

I would like to thank you, Mr. President, and the Uruguayan people for your hospitality in hosting this conference. Your great support for human rights and the development agenda of the United Nations, particularly the ICPD agenda, makes it especially fitting that we are here this week.

Uruguay serves as an example of great social progress in a region where respect for human rights and economic advancement have become an inspiration to other developing countries.

I am also grateful to Ms. Alicia Barcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). We are indebted to ECLAC for their support in organizing this conference and for their excellent partnership, which helps us engage this region more effectively.

This historic conference comes at an opportune moment. It is being held in the context of two of the most consequential activities of the United Nations: the ICPD Beyond 2014 Review and global discussions on the post-2015 development agenda. Both processes seek to create the framework for a world in which everyone lives in dignity and enjoys well-being now and for generations to come.

Your discussions over the next few days and the recommendations that emerge from this conference will form a core part of the future agenda for the ICPD – which will be presented by the Secretary-General in his reports to Member States at the 2014 session of the UN Commission on Population and Development and a special session of the UN General Assembly in September 2014.

This opportunity to link the ICPD review, and the regional and global data it has generated, with post-MDG discussions at national, regional and global levels will ensure that we are truly able to put people and rights at the centre of the development agenda beyond 2015, an essential precondition for meaningful development outcomes.

Let me begin by mentioning that today is International Youth Day. The ICPD Programme of Action placed the rights of young people at the very heart of development. Today’s young people, the largest generation the world has ever known, are powerful change agents who possess not just the will, but also the capacity, to define a global human rights and development agenda that is responsive to the needs of everyone.

Engaging young people – working with them, listening to them, learning from them – is a priority for UNFPA. We are pleased to be joined here today by a key partner in this endeavour, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Youth, Mr. Ahmad Alhendawi, whose presence demonstrates his commitment to the region’s young people.

Ladies and gentlemen,

While the world has seen great progress since the historic United Nations conferences and summits of the 1990s and the Millennium Summit, it is clear that we have not been so successful in matching our actions to our ambitions. In every part of the world, we see growing expectations and demands for a change in the way societies live.

It is impossible to speak of the progress countries have made in implementing the ICPD Programme of Action without acknowledging the contribution of strong civil society organizations, including youth groups and faith-based organizations, and the daily decisions of parents and other family members to educate children, especially girls, and support women and girls to reach their highest potential and live in dignity.

Today, people in Latin America and the Caribbean are more empowered than they were 20 years ago. More and more, people are recognizing themselves as citizens and are finding mechanisms to make their voices heard. The region has seen considerable economic growth over the past decade, and social protection programmes in many countries are ensuring that more people, including the poor and disenfranchised, are benefiting from this growth. We thank your governments for the commitment, leadership and support that have enabled so many people to live healthy, fulfilling and dignified lives.

While we take satisfaction in the great progress countries in this region have made, it is important to match that progress with the vision that drove our leaders in Cairo in 1994 during the International Conference on Population and Development.

The vision that what matters about human beings is not their numbers but the quality of their lives…

The vision that every human being is entitled to economic security…

The vision that no woman should die giving life; that everyone should have access to information, education and services, including sexual and reproductive health services, to live responsible lifestyles, protect themselves from preventable diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, and realize their full potential...

The vision that everyone has the right to decide when and how often to have children; to be free from discrimination or physical harm; and to live and die in dignity…

And the knowledge that all of these conditions are critical for environmental sustainability.

The analysis of the ICPD survey in this region shows, however, that it’s too soon to pat ourselves on the back.
We’ve seen important progress in gender equality and in women’s participation in the social, economic and political spheres, but much work remains in order to achieve full gender equality, increase the capacity of women to exercise their sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, reduce gender-based violence, improve the balance between women’s productive and reproductive lives, and in so doing, increase their ability to participate much more fully in the economy, in political processes and in public life.

There are fewer than 900 days to the MDG deadline. Promoting gender equality in a post-2014 world includes finishing the work of the Millennium Declaration. Unfortunately, the MDGs that are most off-track, including in this region, are those directly linked to achieving gender equality, such as reducing maternal death and ensuring universal reproductive health and rights. This is despite the fact that there is by now overwhelming evidence that gender inequality significantly slows economic growth in both rich and poor countries.

Across the world, in all societies, women and girls consistently face a range of barriers to equality, such as wage gaps, gender-based violence, early childbirth and child marriage.

The poor and otherwise socially disadvantaged are further marginalized by crippling combinations of gender discrimination and poverty. Tackling the gender inequalities and critical barriers that prevent women and girls from exercising their rights and empowering themselves must be at the heart of our efforts to create sustainable, prosperous and resilient societies.

There is a pressing need to involve men more in family life and in child-care roles and to end gender-based violence, which remains one of the most prevalent forms of human rights violations in the region.

Young people must be able to exercise their right to education, including age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education; their right to sexual and reproductive health, through youth-friendly health services that include access to contraception; their right to decent jobs and to participate in decision-making.

Older persons need to be assured of access to social protection systems and allowances, including pensions, and to health and care that enables them to make full use of their skills and abilities so that they enjoy independence and dignity throughout the course of their lives.

We must also protect the rights of migrants and combat trafficking; address exclusion, discrimination and inequality, especially with respect to indigenous peoples and afro-descendants.

One of the key achievements of this region since 1994 has been the impressive rate of economic growth and the reduction of poverty. But even here, the results have been mixed, with persistent inequality both within and between countries.

The Global Survey highlights notable initiatives in the region that, if taken to scale with proper funding and quality assurance, could increase their impact. For example, 31 out of 33 countries in the region have reported progress in access to maternal health-related services, and there is an increase in the number of deliveries in health establishments. However, maternal death continues to be a health and social challenge, particularly among indigenous and afro-descendant populations and among the poorest of the poor.

Alongside the issue of maternal health is that of adolescent pregnancy, which has long been a matter of concern in the region. The adolescent fertility rate in Latin America and the Caribbean is the second highest in the world, with a rate of 70 births per every 1,000 adolescent girls between 15 and 19 years of age. Almost 20% of all births in the region are from adolescent mothers. The region also has the highest rates of unsafe abortion.
Adolescent pregnancy is closely linked to poverty, illiteracy, location, socio-economic disparities, social exclusion and discrimination. It is our poor girls who suffer the consequences of unplanned pregnancies, and this fuels the inter-generational transmission of poverty. We must prevent these pregnancies and enable these girls to stay in school.

However, we cannot end the problem of teenage pregnancy by ignoring reality. Adolescents are often sexually active. The best way to help them through their transition to adulthood is to recognize this fact.

Many of us have been faced with the challenge of recognizing and guiding the sexual evolution of our daughters and sons. The evidence shows that what works best is age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education, which combines the teaching of responsible decision-making and life skills with access to adequate information, counseling, and youth-friendly services, including contraception.

Protecting and promoting the rights of young people to make choices related to their sexual and reproductive health enables them to make other critical life choices and realize life-changing opportunities – for example, to stay in school or to find decent employment.

Several countries are poised to reap the “demographic dividend”, but this requires that decision-makers and planners invest now in programmes to improve young people’s access to decent work, education, social participation and health services, particularly sexual and reproductive health services. This is both your region’s challenge and its opportunity.

Fully engaged, educated, healthy and productive adolescents and youth can help break the cycle of poverty and strengthen their families, communities and nations. Given the opportunity, young people can contribute enormously to the development of your countries and to a better future for us all. The outcome of this conference should send a clear message to the 140 million young people living in the region that we are listening to them and that we want to join forces to provide opportunities for those among their ranks who don’t have access to school or work.

Working together we can mount an integrated response for the up to 32 per cent of young people in the region suffering the consequences of school dropout, adolescent pregnancy, unemployment, drug addiction, or conflict with the law. This is a moral obligation and a social, economic and political necessity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This region also faces environmental challenges, such as drought and floods, water and energy shortages. There is no question that addressing these issues requires proactive planning based on population data and evidence of what policies work. This includes fostering awareness of the linkages between population policy and the environment.

Sustainable consumption and production patterns that protect the environment are critical, and help ensure a higher quality of life for us all. This should not come at the expense of anyone’s right to development, however. The global development agenda beyond 2015 should provide options that enable equitable progress within a framework of sustainable development.

Fortunately, we have the data and information necessary to address these challenges. The region has strong institutional capacity in data generation, but we need to ensure that these data are used for effective policymaking. The information systems that are now available to policy makers, civil society, academia, social networks and individuals can help us bridge the implementation gap, enhance our capacity to monitor policies and improve transparency and accountability.

Governments, civil society organizations, the United Nations and others are calling for a post-2015 agenda grounded in principles of human rights, equality and sustainability. While the discussions so far call for a universal agenda, there is agreement that it must be flexible enough to take into account the particular needs and challenges of different regions and countries.

In the regional meeting on the post-2015 agenda, Latin America and the Caribbean clearly articulated that the unfinished MDGs need to be squarely reflected. The region also recognized that achieving a healthy life, eradicating child and maternal death and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, require universal access to quality health care, including to sexual and reproductive health, particularly focusing on the needs and rights of women and adolescents.

The region is also calling for the post-2015 agenda to consider the challenges posed by a rapid demographic transition that, on the one hand, brings the promise of a demographic dividend if decent employment opportunities for young people are created and, on the other, a potential social and economic liability for countries where these opportunities do not exist. This transition also brings rapid growth in the ageing population, which requires social protection policies that address the needs of older people.

The dependence of wealth creation on natural and environmental resources, and traditional forms of manufacturing and industry without the introduction of innovation, deepens the risks of unsustainable production, climate change and growing socio-environmental conflicts. These challenges require new models of development that help change patterns of production and consumption.

Issues related to urban planning are also critical for Latin America and the Caribbean, which is the most urbanized region of the planet. Rights-based migration policies are also essential in order to move towards more sustainable and resilient human settlements.

We fully support the region’s efforts to improve governance and strengthen institutions — sustainable development requires responsible governance and effective, rights-based universal social protection policies in health, education and employment. The private sector also has a role to play in realizing these aims.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

Recognizing the uniqueness and importance of each individual is key to formulating policies that respond to their needs and to those of society as a whole.

How we adapt existing mechanisms and institutions to more effectively mainstream population and development issues in policy and planning will determine how successful we are in responding to the aspirations of our people – our mothers and fathers, working women and adolescent girls, young men and women from all walks of life, the elderly, the disabled, migrants, the indigenous and afro-descendant, the poor and excluded.

They are all counting on us to fulfill the vision of well-being and dignity set out in Cairo 19 years ago.Let us keep this vision in mind during our deliberations this week. It is the vision of 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.

Let us, once and for all, make this vision a reality.

Thank you.


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