54th Session of the Commission on Population and Development

19 April 2021

Remarks by UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem at the opening of the 54th Session of the Commission on Population and Development, 19 April 2021.


Mr. Chairperson,
Deputy Secretary-General,
Your Majesty Queen Mother of Bhutan
Distinguished delegates,
Civil society colleagues,
Dear friends,

It is an honour to address this 54th session of the Commission on Population and Development.

Food is fundamental. The ICPD Programme of Action called for measures “to strengthen food, nutrition and agricultural policies and programmes…with special attention to the creation and strengthening of food security at all levels”.

In observing this year’s theme, we must remember that on every continent, whether in development or humanitarian crisis settings, food insecurity is higher among women. Within households, too often women and girls eat last and least.

Now, what was already bad has been made worse by COVID-19. The pandemic is causing a spike in poverty and, consequently, food insecurity and undernutrition, which in pregnancy increases the risk of low-birth-weight babies, obstructed labour, premature births, and maternal and newborn deaths. In short, poor nutrition spells disaster for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and their newborns.

In fact, nutrition programmes count among the most cost-effective interventions for lifelong health. Pandemic of not, delivery of such programmes must continue to benefit women and children.

While the pandemic has been hard on everyone – older people, migrants, those living with disabilities, indigenous peoples and people of African descent, and young people facing disrupted education and obstacles to finding work, yet and still, COVID is a crisis with a woman’s face, as we see an upsurge in gender-based violence, in child marriage, in adolescent pregnancy, and as barriers are thrown up to the normal, protective sexual and reproductive health services.

Food scarcity places women and girls in harm’s way, putting them at higher risk of violence, transactional sex and other forms of exploitation and abuse. We see this in the terrible bargain made when someone vulnerable and hungry exchanges unwanted sex for shelter or food, or when desperate families agree to marry off young daughters.

Of the many obstacles that still block women’s path to equality, one of the most pervasive is the lack of bodily autonomy – the issue explored by UNFPA in the newly launched 2021 State of World Population report, titled “My body is my own: claiming the right to autonomy and self-determination.” The report shows that in countries where we have data, nearly half of women lack the power to make their own decisions about whether to have sexual relations with their partner, to use contraception or to seek health care.

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Delegates,

The historic International Conference on Population and Development sat in Cairo 27 years ago and it reached global consensus. Delegates from all regions recognized that health and well-being, including sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, gender equality, and education are at the very heart of development.

This vision has been reiterated in multiple reviews, including the ICPD Beyond 2014 review. This very Commission has linked successful implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action to the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 in 2019 reinvigorated the movement, mobilizing political will and civil society and private support to accelerate action on the ICPD agenda and the SDGs by 2030.

Today, as we meet under the auspices of this landmark Commission, we must show the world that this time, nourishing the aspirations of women, girls—and indeed, everyone—will not escape our grasp. Let there be no obstacle to a resounding consensus that food security and nutrition underpin all the sustainable development goals and are essential to human dignity and well-being.

Food is fundamental. Therefore, end hunger in this Decade of Action. It is high time to regroup and re-commit to a world free from hunger, where all may enjoy good health and live without discrimination and fear.

I wish you productive deliberations this week and look forward to a successful consensus outcome for CPD54.

Thank you.

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