Arab Regional Conference on Population and Development

30 Oct 2018

Opening remarks by Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director, UNFPA, at the Arab Regional Conference on Population and Development in Beirut, Lebanon.

Dr. Mounir Tabet, Deputy Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia,
Dr. Haifa Abu Ghazaleh, Assistant Secretary General for Social Affairs of the League of Arab States,
Excellencies, Honorable Ministers, Distinguished Guests,
Colleagues and Friends,

As salaam alaikum! I greet you in the name of peace, the noble mission of the United Nations that we all share.

I am very pleased to be with you this morning for the opening of the Arab States Regional Conference for ICPD@25. I would like to thank the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia and the League of Arab States for co-organizing this important gathering together with UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

Excellencies, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

Somewhere it is midnight. A boy is getting on his bicycle to go down the hill to locate the midwife. He has memorized the description of the house and the door, because his sister is in labor. She is pregnant at an early age, and the labor is prolonged. There is great danger to her own life, and that of the child within her womb.

Will the brother be able to find the door in the dark? Will the midwife be home? Will she have the training and skills? And will she have the passion to follow him?

Will the mother survive? And importantly, will we have the joy of hearing that long-awaited first cry of the newborn baby?

If health systems work, yes we will.

If reproductive rights are in place yes we will.

Dear friends,

The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994 was an important signal of the commitment and contribution of the Arab region to the global development process.  In Cairo, diverse views on human rights, population, sexual and reproductive health, gender equality and sustainable development merged. World leaders forged a remarkable global consensus that placed individual dignity and the right to plan one’s family at the very heart of development. They acknowledged that fulfilling the rights of women and girls is central to development.

We are here to prepare! To plan together! As we prepare to mark the 25th anniversary of the ICPD Programme of Action, the recent awarding of the Nobel Prize to a brave young woman from Iraq, Nadia Murad, is a reminder that in this region and around the world the struggle for rights and dignity continues.

In 2019, we will also celebrate the 50th anniversary of UNFPA, the United Nations agency leading efforts to ensure reproductive health and rights for all. These milestones are an opportunity to renew our commitment to the groundbreaking Cairo consensus, celebrate achievements and redouble our efforts to advance the agenda we all adopted together nearly 25 years ago. 

I am honoured to be part of this regional review conference, which brings together prominent government officials, parliamentarians, representatives of civil society organizations, regional and international experts and our United Nations partners.

Together, we are here to review the centrality of the ICPD Programme of Action to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Why is it still relevant 25 years later? The 2013 Cairo Declaration in essence, reaffirms a human rights-based sustainable development agenda. Its focus on sound evidence-based population policies that rest on gender equality, investment in young people, and access to sexual and reproductive health services and reproductive rights has resulted in proud achievements across the region.

  • Maternal deaths have fallen in several Arab countries since 2013, including here in Lebanon, Oman and Morocco, to name just a few.
  • In 2017, Tunisia adopted a comprehensive national law to combat all forms of gender-based violence.
  • Palestine ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women without reservations in 2014. A strong signal that ending gender-based violence is a priority.
  • In Syria, Libya and Yemen, deadly conflicts have affected countries’ abilities to fulfill several policy commitments. Yet, healthcare providers have worked around the clock to ensure that women and girls have access to reproductive health services, including services for survivors of gender-based violence.

The list of advances is long, and we will discuss them over the next three days. The list of challenges is also long. It includes the frustration of young men and women across the region over prospects for their futures, and the effect of migration not only on the region but also on human rights.

The strong partnership between UNFPA, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia and the League of Arab States in support of the Cairo Declaration is encouraging. Together, we are committed to supporting Member States and to facilitating open discussion of the progress and challenges as part of this regional review of the Cairo Declaration.

We will look at the report on “Mapping of population policies in the Arab region” and examine the extent to which these policies are people-centered. As we do, let’s ask ourselves: How effectively do they establish the health and wellbeing of people as a human right?

How do we accelerate efforts to reach gender equality, to protect women and girls from all forms of violence, and to help young people realize their full potential? Across the region and around the world, millions of young people are waiting to claim their power and realize their dreams. How do we invest in their power and potential?

This is absolutely central to realizing the ICPD and the Sustainable Development Goals and to building prosperity and peace – peace in our homes, communities, countries and in hearts of all women and girls around the region.

To support Member States, UNFPA has proudly committed to three transformative results by 2030:

  1. Zero unmet need for family planning;
  2. Zero preventable maternal deaths; and
  3. Zero gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls.

All based on a foundation of high-quality population data. Data is crucial to ending the invisibility of those furthest behind. Our commitment to leaving no one behind means everyone must be accounted for, so everyone can be reached.

Access to family planning and other sexual and reproductive health information and services is a right. Making this right a reality – ensuring universal voluntary access – means removing all financial, legal and physical barriers to sexual and reproductive health information and services.

Countries are making progress. In Morocco, over 70 percent of women aged 15 to 49 are currently using a family planning method, compared to 67 percent in 2010. This is very encouraging. It shows change is possible.

We know that adolescents and youth are a major resource for sustainable development. They can be catalysts for social change, economic growth and technological innovation.  Investing in their education and skills development, employment and entrepreneurship, health and wellbeing is essential to unleash their power and potential to drive progress. And, let me add another “P” – participation!

Supporting the active participation of young people and youth-led organizations in national, regional and international events and in decision-making strengthens their civic engagement and builds self-esteem and leadership skills. UNFPA has decades of experience in supporting youth participation and engagement, and we stand ready to partner with countries in empowering their young people.

These are just some of the concrete measures needed to address demographic and development challenges in the region and to seize opportunities to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and full implementation of the ICPD.

Distinguished delegates,

As you know, this conference is part of a global process. Each region of the world is reviewing their progress since the 2013 regional conferences on population and development.

In Latin America, Europe and most recently in Africa, we have seen overwhelmingly positive contributions from Member States, with strong commitment to the full implementation of the ICPD in line with the 2013 outcomes for their respective regions.

In 2019, 25 years after Cairo, the Commission on Population and Development will conduct a full review of the ICPD Programme of Action and its contribution to the 2030 Agenda, based on these regional reviews. This will inform the first full review of the 2030 Agenda in the UN General Assembly.

Your leadership in this region, as government and civil society representatives, academics and development partners, has been critical to our collective progress since the ICPD and since 2013. It will continue to be vital as we head for 2030.

I know that this region will continue to shine brightly on the global stage, just as it did nearly 25 years ago in Cairo.

In parts of this region, conflicts and humanitarian crises affect all segments of the populations, and hit young people and women particularly hard.  This conference is also an opportunity to discuss the root causes of the large movements of displaced people, refugees and migrants. It is an opportunity to recommit to ensuring human rights as a condition for peacebuilding and development. Let’s focus on the rights of people, all people, to live lives free of discrimination and marginalization, and to access the information and services they need for their health and wellbeing.

We can and must address these challenges. We are surrounded here by the partners we need to do so. Look around you. We are in a room full of decision makers and creative minds ready to lead. All connected by a shared vision – the Cairo Declaration – on which this change depends.

Some might ask why ICPD, in an era of SDGs? To that I say, the ICPD and SDGs both go hand in hand, are people-centered and are complementary. The ICPD is a dedicated vehicle through which we can - and will -  address, achieve and fulfill the SDGs.

I know we will continue to learn many lessons, including during our discussions here this week. We will no doubt encounter things we never suspected. Yet, our objectives and targets are clear. We will learn. We will adapt. As always, we will persevere. And together, I am confident we will succeed.

We at UNFPA stand ready to support your governments in the full implementation of the Cairo Declaration as we proceed together towards 2030.




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