Five Key Areas for Moving Forward: Reflections with Parliamentarians on ICPD/15

27 October 2009
Author: UNFPA

Distinguished Ministers,
Honourable Parliamentarians,
Colleagues and Friends,

Good Morning and welcome to the 4th International Parliamentarians’ Conference on the Implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action (IPCI/ICPD).

I would like to take this opportunity first to thank The House of Peoples' Representatives of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia for hosting and welcoming us to this important Conference.

I also thank the Conference’s organizers, especially the Forum of African and Arab Parliamentarians on Population and Development and my colleagues at UNFPA who worked so hard to bring us together.

I thank the Asian, European, and Inter-American Parliamentary groups on population and development, and Parliamentarians for Global Action, for their support and participation.

And, last but not least, I thank the more than 400 parliamentarians, ministers and other government officials and partners from civil society, from more than 115 countries. Thank you for coming. It is so great to see all of you, and to be here with you in Addis Ababa.

We meet as we commemorate the 15th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). We are gathered here to advance the visionary and holistic ICPD Programme of Action, which recognized the diversity the 179 governments participating in the conference, taking into consideration the diverse cultural values and religious beliefs that are not against human rights.

Fifteen years ago, 179 governments explicitly recognized sexual and reproductive health as a human right. Since then, the political commitments articulated within the ICPD Programme of Action have helped transform the international legal framework on reproductive rights, as well as national laws worldwide.

Through culturally sensitive approaches, UNFPA has worked with parliamentarians and the international human rights community to strengthen legal protections for women’s reproductive rights and remove restrictive legislation.

We registered a significant victory this year, in June 2009, when the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a ground-breaking resolution on “Preventable Maternal Mortality, Morbidity and Human Rights”.

I thank the Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation and the Ethiopian Minister of Health for co-hosting with UNFPA the high-level meeting yesterday on maternal health and Millennium Development Goal 5 on the eve of this global parliamentary conference. We heard loud and clear that maternal health is a human right. And BBC World News featured maternal mortality as a headline news story.

There is rising awareness and we need to build on this momentum. No woman should die while giving life and no woman should die from unsafe abortion.

We are here to galvanize greater commitment to reducing maternal mortality and morbidity and unsafe abortion, and to strengthening safe motherhood services, through family planning, the presence of skilled attendants during childbirth and the availability of emergency obstetric care.

We are here to ensure that greater progress is made to advance human rights, including the right to sexual and reproductive health, and to hold governments accountable. We are here to strengthen action to defend and advance gender equality, gender equity and women’s empowerment, and to support the rights and leadership of young people.

During the past 15 years, the ICPD Programme of Action has paved the way for needed reform to advance human rights in countries around the world.

In 2003, the African Union adopted the protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), providing broad protection for African women’s rights, including reproductive rights.

In 2007, Nepal adopted an Interim Constitution that provides broad protections to women’s reproductive rights by stating that women have “the right to reproductive health and other reproductive matters”.

In a number of countries—including Benin, Mali and Uruguay—laws have been adopted to ensure that sexual and reproductive health care is delivered in a manner that respects women’s human rights.

In 2008, the Colombian Constitutional Court struck down the country’s total abortion ban, citing the ICPD Programme of Action. That leaves only three countries that have a total ban on abortion, two of which are not with us here today. All other countries of the world, all of you here, have laws that allow abortion under certain conditions, such as rape, incest, and threat to the life of the mother.

It is essential that we keep human rights front and centre as we celebrate the 15th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development.

As parliamentary leaders, you are gathered here for the next two days to take stock of progress made in advancing the Cairo agenda and also in carrying out the actions to which you committed yourselves in the Statements of Commitment from the previous parliamentary conferences in Ottawa, Strasbourg and Bangkok.

We have just five years to go before we reach the deadline of 2015 to achieve the ICPD and Millennium Development Goals. And we are confronted with clear opportunities and challenges.

Way Forward

Overall, there are five key points that I would like to stress today.

1. Investing in sexual and reproductive health

First, to make greater progress, we need to increase investments in sexual and reproductive health, including family planning.

We know that investment is critical. You have made commitments in the previous IPCI meetings to have your governments allocate at least 10 per cent of the national development and national assistance budgets for population and development programmes, including reproductive health. Yet, during this decade, funding for reproductive health has remained at the same level, while funding for other areas of health has increased substantially. In today’s global economic crises, funding for reproductive health is further threatened. Today, I call on you as parliamentarians to make the health and reproductive rights of women a financial priority.

Ensuring access to reproductive health, including family planning, to all, rich and poor, will enable women to manage the number and spacing of their pregnancies and go safely through pregnancy and childbirth. This will accelerate progress to achieve all of the Millennium Development Goals.

A neglected population group needs your attention – that is adolescents and young people, and within that, young girls who are often married at a very young age, when they are still children. They need your commitment to put in place laws that raise the age of marriage and protect their right to sexual and reproductive health.

I call on you to ensure that comprehensive reproductive health services and commodities are given high priority in national budgets, development assistance, sector-wide approaches and poverty-reduction strategies.

And here, I would like to address the issue of abortion openly and frankly because many delegations raised it yesterday at the ministerial meeting and because it is always a very difficult issue that impacts the lives of women, including young girls.

We need to work within the spirit and words of the ICPD Programme of Action and the ICPD+5 Key Actions. In Cairo, 179 governments reached consensus that abortion should never be a form of family planning and that expanding family planning services allows women to plan their pregnancies and reduces abortion, and there are many studies that prove this is truly the case. It also states that compassionate post-abortion counselling and care should be provided including the management of complications. The agreement also states that where abortion is legal, it should be safe. And five years later, governments reaching consensus in the special session of the United Nations General Assembly went further to state that where abortion is legal, it should be safe and accessible. Today, an estimated 70,000 women, including many young girls, die each year from unsafe abortion.

As Parliamentarians, I call on you to lead the way in saving women’s lives by ensuring that the governments of your countries are carrying out the ICPD programme, which they adopted.

We also need to do more to link HIV and AIDS efforts with sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. Greater progress is needed to protect the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS.

And let me say this: With no cure in sight for AIDS, and with five new infections occurring for every two people receiving treatment, the first line of defence must remain HIV prevention. Prevention is particularly important for women and young people, who continue to be disproportionately affected. Linking programmes of sexual and reproductive health and HIV is the most effective way of saving lives.

2. Ending discrimination and violence against women

Another area where we need stronger action, and this is my second point, is ending discrimination and violence against girls and women.

As parliamentarians, you have worked hard to draft and pass protective legislation and policies, and I applaud you for your efforts. Many countries now have laws in place, and this is a great step towards equality.

But in too many places, these laws and policies remain paper promises; they go unimplemented and remain unenforced. Today, I call on you as parliamentarians to use your full power to end impunity and to ensure monitoring and accountability.

I call on you to break the silence and to speak out about sensitive issues such as sexual and reproductive health and the dangers faced by adolescents and young girls, in particular, and foster community and national dialogue. We need to actively promote a culture of zero tolerance for violence against women and discrimination.

It is time to support change from within each society that is deeply rooted in communities and for this, reaching out to civil society, including progressive religious leaders and faith-based organizations, can facilitate progress.

3. Responding to demographic challenges

Third, we need to respond more energetically to today’s unprecedented demographic challenges.

The 2010 round of censuses provides much-needed data, and surveys and rapid assessments guide us to target responses to the most vulnerable.

While we welcome the world’s largest youth population, we experience at the same time an increase in the number of older persons worldwide. Governments are responsible to providing support simultaneously to both old and young in a challenging development context. I call upon you to take this opportunity to foster intergenerational solidarity.

While we witness rapid population growth in the world’s poorest nations, some of the world’s richest countries face population decline. To address both scenarios, women and couples need expanded choices of support when it comes to childbearing and childrearing.

In the poorest countries with high rates of fertility and mortality, intensified efforts are needed to provide reproductive health services, including family planning, to meet the unmet need of about 200 million women who want to plan their families but do not have the modern means to do so.

In countries with low fertility, specific policies and programmes are needed so women and couples can balance work and family life and there is social protection for the ageing. Studies show that in the Nordic countries, where such programmes are provided, couples are having larger families. This shows that there is a link between economic and social development, poverty reduction, women’s empowerment, gender equality and population dynamics.

When it comes to migration, we all need to do more to promote and protect the human rights of migrants. And with rapid urbanization and the growth of urban slums, there is an urgent need to respond with responsive laws policies and programmes to manage population movements and to ensure adequate living standards. Climate change is already bringing havoc to many communities around the world and more will happen. As parliamentarians, you can lead the way forward.

4. Building bridges with women and youth

Fourth, I would like to encourage you to work closely with women and youth in order to understand further the reality of their lives so that you can counter opposition and achieve greater progress.

They possess the ideas, energy, ambition and belief in their own capabilities to accelerate effective action to reduce poverty, advance women’s empowerment, improve maternal health, combat HIV and AIDS and protect human rights.

I call on you as parliamentarians to ensure meaningful participation of the communities most affected by laws and policies in the legislative and policy-making processes.

Parliaments in every region would benefit from having a wider perspective on the various issues that are being examined. Also, by supporting youth leadership and participation and with young people in turn showing a sense of responsibility, we will help promote dialogue between the generations, which is urgently needed.

5. Protecting the most vulnerable

And fifth, given the financial and food crisis and a changing climate, we need to take urgent and concerted action to safeguard hard-won development gains and protect the most vulnerable.

Today, women and children constitute the vast majority of the world’s poor: almost 80 per cent of the world’s poor are women and children. As parliamentarians, you take decisions about the financial, energy, food and climate change crises, and I urge you to focus on the impact on the poor, especially women and children. If not, women and children will bear the brunt of these multiple crises for which they are not responsible, and society as a whole will be diminished.

And it is time to engage women as strong and vital partners in solutions to our most pressing challenges, including climate change.


As I see it, our challenge is to summon the courage and wisdom to respond to these crises realistically and systemically and to foster development that is both socially equitable and environmentally sound. For this, the ICPD Programme of Action remains a valid blueprint.

As we go through difficult and challenging times, continued advocacy on the part of parliamentarians and representatives of government, civil society and the United Nations is essential to ensure that family planning and reproductive health and rights receive the priority attention they deserve.

Concrete achievements in many areas speak to the progress that we have made collectively since the Cairo Conference in 1994. Your role as parliamentary leaders has been critical.

As we move forward, my colleagues and I at UNFPA will continue to listen to you, to work with you and to stand by you. As Parliamentarians, you can transform the voices of the people into action by Governments. During these next two days, I challenge each one of you to make a concrete pledge that you will carry back home to your country.

Let us use this conference to chart the way forward and make greater progress, not just for women, children and young people, but for the society as a whole.

Thank you. 

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