High-Level Segment of ECOSOC. "Keeping Promise To Women Benefits All"

02 July 2002

We are gathered here today to talk about the contribution of human resource development to the process of social and economic development. In addition, I have a very simple message: No nation can be strong and prosperous unless its citizens are healthy and educated. And investment in girls and women pays off the most.

Mr. President, all of us have been saying that the greatest resource of any nation is its people. But, today, many people remain trapped in poverty because they do not have the means to escape. They lack resources; they lack opportunities; and they lack basic services. This is especially true for women, and the consequences are tragic.

Today, poor maternal health is a leading cause of death and disability among women of childbearing age in the developing world. As it stands today, almost one half of all births in developing countries take place without a nurse, doctor or midwife present. Due to lack of care and treatment, over one half a million women die each year, one woman every minute-the vast majority in Africa and Asia. And for every woman who dies, 20 to 30 others suffer serious injury or disability. This takes an enormous toll on families and societies. This is more than a failure in public health; this is a massive violation of the most basic right to life.

The international community has made the women of the world a top priority in international development goals. We have pledged to reduce maternal mortality and increase gender equality. Let us keep that promise.

All women need encouragement and education in girlhood, and the power to make choices in life in adulthood. They all need basic care and services such as reliable information on health, good care in pregnancy and childbirth, family planning and protection from sexually transmitted infections. All women should be able to count on these things; and it has been UNFPA's mission to help make sure they can. We can only do so with your support, both politically and financially.

Studies show that the health of both women and children is placed at high risk if women have pregnancies too soon, too late, too many times or too close together. The ability of couples to plan the number, spacing and timing of births is a fundamental human right. Nevertheless, many women who want to stop having children or to delay their next birth do not have access to family planning services. Today, the lives that are most burdened and impoverished by over-frequent bearing and rearing of children are those of young women, especially in the poorest countries.

Around 20 per cent of couples in developing countries today say they want to space or limit their families and, yet, they are not using any family planning services. In sub-Saharan Africa, estimates suggest that less than one half the demand for family planning is being met. And demand for these services in the developing world is expected to increase by a further 40 per cent in the next 15 years because there are so many young people of reproductive age.

In developing countries today, one person in three is younger than 15, and over one half of people are under the age of 25. Within the next 15 years, during the time we are expected to attain the Millennium Development Goals, the population of developing nations is expected to increase by a billion people. The fastest growth is taking place in the least developed countries that are least able to provide basic services.

And not only are there more young people than ever before, we must also remember that this is the first generation of adolescents who have grown up with HIV/AIDS. Today, one half of all new HIV infections occur in young people. But just as young people are the most vulnerable to infection, they are also the best hope to turn the epidemic around.

Large-scale, targeted prevention efforts have proved successful in many countries including Uganda, Thailand, and Senegal. Reproductive health care plays a central role in AIDS prevention. Providing education and information on sexual health, and services to prevent and care for sexually transmitted infections are crucial in stopping the spread of AIDS. The United Nations Population Fund has made HIV prevention a priority and it is targeting efforts at those who are most susceptible, namely women and young people. The programmes we at UNFPA fund to empower women and involve men are more important than ever. Girls who can protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy and too early marriage are also better able to stay in school.

Mr. President, distinguished delegates, the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994) stressed the links between education and health, gender equality, and population and sustainable development. These links were also stressed at the Rio Earth Summit in Agenda 21. We look forward to your leadership in reinforcing this linkage in Johannesburg in a clear statement of support.

Now that we are seeing the positive results of these policies, we must stay on track. Today, global population growth is slowing. Fertility is declining faster than had been predicted in several large developing countries.

The benefits of investing in education and health care are well documented and substantial. In the field of population, we see the positive results clearly. When women and couples have access to schooling and family planning, they choose to have smaller families and invest more in each child. This in turn allows for further progress. Developing countries that have invested in health and education, enabling women to make their own fertility choices, have registered faster economic growth than those that have not. Addressing these issues in a coordinated and strategic manner allows us to maximize results, and make greater progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

By providing universal education and health care, we can begin to bridge the great social and economic divides that tear our world apart. By giving every girl and boy an education and by increasing women's literacy and their access to health services, we can help bridge the gender gap that now takes a terrible toll on societies. By expanding and improving education and health care, we can help bridge the poverty gap that threatens to destabilize societies and the world at large. By providing education with strong scientific and technical programmes, we can help bridge the digital divide that continues to grow while it should be shrinking. And by providing universal education and health care, including reproductive health services, we can help bridge the population gap that sees populations stable or shrinking in the wealthy nations and growing most rapidly in the poorest ones.

Mr. President, this is exactly what the Programme of Action adopted by consensus in Cairo in 1994 is about. All countries in which we have programmes have been implementing the Cairo Programme in a nationally-owned and culturally-sensitive approach. We at UNFPA look forward to your continuous support. Decreasing and/or cutting funding for UNFPA harms the very people about whom we have been talking for the past two days.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank members of the European Union and the Central and Eastern European countries for their support as reiterated today in the statement of the Danish Presidency of the European Union.

Distinguished delegates, let us keep our promise and make that very good investment, with a sense of great urgency.

Thank you.

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