By: Stuart Halford, Advocacy Officer, International Planned Parenthood Federation
(This editorial reflects the thoughts and views of the author, and not necessarily those of the International Planned Parenthood Federation)
Late last year, Yemen, on behalf of the G77, and China put forward a resolution that was adopted by the General Assembly. The resolution entitled “Follow-up to the International Conference on Population and Development beyond 2014”extended the Programme of Action (PoA) and called for an United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) in 2014, to assess the status of ICPD’s implementation. It noted that the goals and objectives of the ICPD remained valid beyond 2014, but that many governments were still not on track to achieving them. The extension of ICPD without a timeline was welcome news; not least because it recognised the crucial linkages between its implementation and the attainment of the MDGs, clearly underscoring ICPD’s relevance to any post-2015 development framework. Crucially, the Resolution ruled out opening up the ICPD to renegotiation at the 2014 UNGASS but stressed the need to address new challenges.
These ‘new challenges’ provide a window of opportunity to address issues such as the sexual and reproductive rights of adolescents which have yet to be acknowledged strongly enough by governments. This is a critical development and human rights issue. With more than 1.8 billion young people aged 10-24, the largest generation in the world’s history approaching sexual maturity and child bearing, it is vital that we address their current and future needs.
Next year’s Rio+20 Summit also presents an opportunity to raise the banner of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). It will focus on the green economy and sustainable development and is expected to help shape the content of any post-2015 development framework – again, providing an opportunity to highlight the centrality of SRHR to long-term sustainable development.
Prior to the 2014 UNGASS, there will be a final review of the MDGs in 2013. The MDGs have dominated the global development agenda since 2000 and helped shape both the development priorities of donors and developing countries. As a consequence, the needs of young women and girls have been marginalized along with reduced political and financial priority for sexual and reproductive health and family planning; and have significantly undermined progress towards achieving the MDGs.
The 2013 MDG review will look at the MDG successes and failures to date, but no doubt will also have one eye on the shape of any post-2015 successor framework. No one knows what this new framework will look like although it is expected that poverty alleviation will remain at its heart. Some suggest the current framework will be tinkered with, that the health related MDGs will be merged into one, and that non-communicable diseases, nutrition and pandemics will be included within a broad health goal. In doing so, it will yet again reduce the priority of sexual and reproductive health and therefore, the wellbeing of millions of women and girls in developing countries. Some suggest a totally new framework is required, while others believe the MDGs will be extended; again incorporating ‘new challenges’ which would present us with tangible options.
What is clear is that we need to underscore the links between poverty alleviation and SRHR to ensure their inclusion in any post-2015 international development framework. The lack of focus on SRHR has already compromised attempts to eliminate poverty through the MDGs. Although there is more than enough evidence on these linkages already, we need to convince governments that such priority is essential, regardless of those governments and special interest groups who would seek to undermine SRHR by making this a controversial issue. Affirmative advocacy at the community, national, regional and global levels is essential and needs to be coordinated effectively to ensure adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health, access to safe abortion services, and gender equality and rights can no longer be neglected in such influential global development processes.
Giving young women and girls access to SRH information and services helps make it possible for them to choose when and how many children to have; and we know that when given the choice, most women choose more for their children over more children. This allows them greater opportunity to participate in educational, social and economic activities and helps advance gender equality and the role of women in society. Young women that have economic and educational choices also have greater opportunity to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty currently perpetuated by poor SRH and gender inequality; yet 42% of these 1.8 billion young people still live in poverty. The SRH of young women and girls clearly impacts their own development outcomes as well as those of the communities in which they live.
Knowing too, that more and more young women and couples of reproductive age are choosing to have fewer children than the previous generation, but are unable to fulfill these desires because they lack access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services is not enough. We know that modern contraceptive use prevents 188 million unintended pregnancies resulting in 150,000 fewer maternal deaths each year, and that when a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children. Despite this, SRHR is still not prioritised as a long-term sustainable development priority, and is still regarded by some as too controversial to support. Hence, a girl growing up in Chad is still more likely to die in childbirth than she is to attend secondary school. Action is long overdue.
Whatever the shape of any new post 2015 framework, we need to remember that the person is at the heart of development and the human rights of each individual, including the right to the highest attainable standard of health, can only be achieved if women and girls are empowered to exercise free choice in their sexual and reproductive lives. Without priority being focussed on women and girls, progress on positive human and economic development outcomes and the ability to lift individuals and communities out of poverty will seriously be limited. As such, let us use every opportunity in the run up to 2015 to reinforce these priorities to ensure governments reach consensus on the right way forward.