Africa Ministerial Luncheon during High-Level Political Forum

16 Jul 2019

Statement by UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem in the margins of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development [as prepared for delivery]

Ministers and Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Distinguished Guests, Young people,
Colleagues and Partners,

Good afternoon! I am pleased to be here and grateful to see so many of you joining us for this Ministerial luncheon.  

Your presence today is especially meaningful as we commemorate UNFPA’s 50th anniversary, as well as the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo and its landmark Programme of Action.   

I would like to thank the Government of Egypt, the birthplace of the ICPD, and the Government of Kenya, co-host of the Nairobi Summit in November, for co-chairing this event.

The strong engagement and leadership that we see from African governments underscores the importance of the ICPD agenda toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and toward securing the Africa We Want: one in which all young people can flourish without any limit to their potential.

Indeed, the ICPD remains close to Africa’s heart.   

It was on the continent where, 25 years ago, African leaders proudly stood among the 179 Member States to commit to a future in which no girl would face child marriage, early childbearing or harmful practices, and every woman would have the autonomy and agency to choose whether, when and with whom to have her children.  

With Africa leading the way, we can deliver on the commitments of Cairo. Since 1994, the continent has already made considerable headway.

African women’s access to family planning has increased, as has skilled birth attendance by qualified midwives, cutting by half the risk of women dying in pregnancy or childbirth. 

We have also seen progress in the reduction of harmful practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation, that violate the rights of women and girls and curtail their potential.

Equally important strides have been made in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

These are the concrete results of Africa’s investment in people-centered development. These investments are saving lives. They are creating hope. They are transforming economies. 

And they are a testament to the home-grown initiatives at regional and country level – for the good of Africa, by the people of Africa – that are bringing about positive change.  

The African Union’s Agenda 2063 is a forward-looking vision that centres on increasing choices, opportunities and rights.

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests,

We have made strong progress in our journey towards the Africa We Want.

However, there is unfinished business in Africa:

  • One in five women cannot meet their family planning needs as they wish;
  • One in three women were married as girls; and
  • One in three women face sexual and gender-based violence.

The Africa we want is an Africa with 3 zeros:

  • Zero unmet need for family planning;
  • Zero preventable maternal deaths, and
  • Zero violence and harmful practices against women and girls, including an end to child marriage and female genital mutilation.

UNFPA is working non-stop towards achieving these three life-changing results – all based on a platform of high-quality data to make the invisible visible and leave no one behind.

When I was in Niger last week for the African Union’s 55th Extraordinary Summit, I was encouraged by the commitment of African governments to tackle these issues head-on.

And when I met with a group of girls at a secondary school in Niamey, they asked me to carry a message to their leaders.

  • We want you to help us stay in school.
  • We don’t want to get married until we’re ready.
  • We want you to help us fulfil our dreams.

With less than 11 years to go until 2030, there is no time to waste. Let us recommit ourselves to the promise of ICPD, and keep it alive by ensuring rights and choices for all and empowering young people to realize their full potential.

As we collectively review progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals at the High Level Political Forum, there is no better time than now.

That is why the Governments of Kenya and Denmark, together with UNFPA, will convene leaders and participants from all over the world, from 12th to 14th November for the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25. This Summit will mobilize the commitments so urgently needed to finally and fully implement the ICPD Programme of Action.

We are asking you to come to Nairobi in November with your commitments as governments and as individuals too, commitments that will accelerate the good progress observed so far and ultimately finish the unfinished business of ICPD. We hope you will join us, and UNFPA stands ready to help fashion commitments with you.

It is said that where there is unity there is victory. So let nothing distract or divide us as we pledge to educate, nurture and protect the girls of Africa. Every young person on the continent must reach their full potential.

It may not be an easy path, yet together we can continue the journey we began in Cairo 25 years ago, one that leads us to an inclusive and sustainable Africa of rights and choices, of prosperity, and peace!

Thank you, asante sana, gracias.

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