Symposium on Population, MDGs and National Development -- Panel on Reproductive Health and Rights

17 February 2004
Author: UNFPA

Addis Ababa

Dr. Mulu, Chairperson
Dr. Demissie, Vice-Minister of Health
Mr. Steve Sinding
Ms. Margaret Neuse

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good afternoon.

It is exciting for me to be here in Addis Ababa for the first time and to participate in this important symposium. I would like to thank the Government of Ethiopia, USAID/Ethiopia and UNFPA/Ethiopia for making this symposium possible. I would also like to express my appreciation to Dr. Mulu, the Vice-Minister of Health; Steve Sinding; and Margaret Neuse for devoting time to be here. I am also particularly delighted to see many partners here to participate in this exciting discussion.

It shows the great lesson we all have learnt about the importance of participation and the need for a broad-based involvement in the implementation of interventions related to Population, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and National Development. I hope we shall continue to demonstrate this spirit of partnership and collaboration towards the fulfilment of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which paves the way for the achievement of the MDGs.

For my presentation today, I would like to devote attention to the ICPD Programme of Action as well as Goals 3 and 5 of the MDGs because they speak about the importance of promoting gender equality, empowerment of women and ensuring women’s health, especially their reproductive health and rights.

Over the past decade, the United Nations has convened a number of global conferences, including the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women. Both of these global gatherings awakened all countries about their responsibility to invest in the lives of women.

The Millennium Development Goals also constitute a bold new development agenda with time-bound targets that seek to promote peace, security, human rights and the well-being of the world’s people. The heads of State of Africa have also outlined a new agenda: the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) in order to reinforce the momentum for reducing poverty and promoting development in Africa. The United Nations system, in collaboration with its partners, has embarked on a unified follow-up to the ICPD Programme of Action and the MDGs in order to strengthen its efforts to assist countries, especially those in Africa, to promote national development and enhance the quality of life of all individuals and communities.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Cultures in Africa and around the world have always recognised the importance of women and their contribution to sustainable family life and community development. I would like to quote a friend who said: “The heart of a woman is what makes the world spin. That a woman carries children, hardships and burdens; but she holds happiness, love and joy. She even smiles when she wants to scream.”

Ironically, in many societies it is extremely difficult to define the legal status of women because “legality” is affected by the constitution, civil codes, religious laws and traditional laws, which are in conflict in many instances. Cultural laws, attitudes and practices, which stereotype the role of women exclusively within the realm of marriage and reproduction, have prevented many societies from using the full potential of women in the socio-economic development of their countries. For example, women’s education in many societies is generally low. In this 21st century, where education largely determines the type of skills needed for participation in the modern sector, the low level of education of women imposes limits on their opportunities for involvement in this sector.

In Ethiopia and elsewhere, women bear most of the burden associated with reproductive ill health as a result of traditional values, norms, beliefs and low levels of education. For example, there are societal pressures on women to marry at young ages and to have as many children as possible. In the worst cases, this results in early death or obstetric fistula. Furthermore, many girls undergo abduction for marriage, sexual violence and female genital cutting. So pervasive are these societal norms and practices that it is often difficult to determine which set of factors are the most important to explain the reproductive health problems of women.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The high incidence of early marriage harms women’s health and limits their opportunities to enter the highly competitive labour market. Access to credit is both institutionally and economically controlled so that only persons with adequate financial assets are able to qualify. Therefore, by default, it becomes very difficult for women to have equal access to credit to enable them to undertake productive activities. Women’s access to land is also limited by male-dominated inheritance patterns. Legal discrimination against women also persists, especially in terms of rights under family law. For example, women do not have the same rights to marry and divorce as men.

Whilst these factors lower the status of women, they also endanger the health and limit the potential of women and their families to contribute to the socio-economic development of their communities and countries. The consequences are that half of the women who become pregnant each year do not plan or wish the pregnancy; more than 500,000 women die each year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth; 78,000 women die each year from unsafe abortion; and some 120 million women worldwide have been subjected to female genital cutting.

In one of the strongest statements on women ever to be included in any conference document, the Programme of Action of the ICPD emphasizes that women must be full and equal participants in all aspects of development planning and programming; this is both a matter of basic human right and a prerequisite of sustainable development. An important part of the ICPD was a clear rejection of practices, which, in the name of tradition, do harm to reproductive and sexual health, especially of women. The success of development efforts depends upon making women full partners. Women must be enabled not only to contribute their efforts, but also to share equally in the benefits of development activities.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The ICPD Programme of Action states that the empowerment of women and the improvement of their political, economic, social and health status are not only important goals in themselves; they are also essential for the achievement of sustainable development. The socio-economic advancement of women is integrally related to population growth, sustainable development, and national prosperity. To address issues related to gender inequalities and the empowerment of women, a large majority of African governments have put in place institutional arrangements and pieces of legislation. They see that greater levels of gender equality and empowerment of women can lead to improved use of reproductive health, including family planning services, and also help in the prevention of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. However, the implementation of these policies is hindered by inadequate gender mainstreaming tools, poorly trained staff and lack of resources.

As you know, this year marks the tenth anniversary of the Cairo Conference. In this connection a number of activities are being undertaken in all regions of the world to review the progress that has been made in implementing the ICPD Programme of Action. This review process is examining factors that either promoted or hampered the implementation of the Cairo mandate, identifying achievements and best practices and making recommendations for the next 10 years, so that we can reach our goals.

Most of the reviews undertaken to date have provided growing evidence that the ICPD agenda is practical and realistic, and that despite obstacles, it is being pursued earnestly by countries. They have also underscored the importance and urgency in tackling emerging issues such as HIV/AIDS and addressing the sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescents.

Ladies and gentlemen,

On the occasion of this tenth anniversary of the ICPD, I would like to urge all of you to rededicate yourselves to the principles of the ICPD Programme of Action and the MDGs, especially with regard to population, reproductive health, gender and development, and to strengthen intersectoral linkages in order to promote the advancement of women and the improvement of the quality of life of all individuals in our respective communities.

We in UNFPA are particularly supportive of women’s aspirations. In our assistance to countries, we endeavour to identify the constraints to the full participation of women in the development process, implement interventions that expand the roles of women beyond those traditionally prescribed for them, and strengthen the capacity of all people to achieve their development goals.

Thank you.

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