April 14, 2014 – Governments Call for Increased Efforts to Promote Sexual and Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights in Development Policies
The 47th session of the Commission on Population and Development ended with a call from governments to promote gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as key priorities for sustainable development. The Commission urged leaders to integrate these rights into the new development framework that will replace the Millennium Development Goals set to expire in 2015.
The weeklong Commission was convened to assess 20 years of progress since the groundbreaking agreements made at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994. At Cairo, 179 governments, including Canada, agreed that women’s health and rights—specifically sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights—must be central to global development policies, programs, and funding, and are the key to reducing the social and economic inequalities that exist worldwide.
At this a critical time in history, governments have made clear that commitments made in Cairo in 1994, and since, must be carried forward into the new development agenda. “In 1994, Canada played a leadership role in drafting the ICPD Programme of Action, working hard to ground sexual and reproductive health policy-making and programming in human rights principles, securing the sexual health and reproductive rights of individuals, including contraceptive and safe abortion services and adolescents’ access to sexual and reproductive health services and information. Now we need strong leadership from countries like Canada more than ever to translate these priorities into the post-2015 development agenda.” said Sandeep Prasad of ACPD, and member of the High Level Task Force for ICPD.
Despite progress since Cairo, the global community has yet to fulfill the promise of equitable and universal access to quality, integrated sexual and reproductive health care services. To address this, the Commission urged governments to expand access to confidential and non-discriminatory sexual and reproductive health-care services. The Commission also called on governments to train and equip health-service providers to ensure that, in circumstances where abortion is not against the law, abortion is safe and accessible. Recognizing that the majority of countries worldwide permit abortion either in cases of rape or to preserve a woman’s mental health, and that more than 2/3 of Canada’s priority development countries permit abortion on grounds of women’s mental health, rape or without restriction, this resolution provides further impetus for the Canadian government to revisit its hypocritical and discriminatory refusal to fund safe abortion services within its development initiatives.
Many governments also expressed strong support for advancing the human rights of all to control all aspects of their sexuality, collectively known as “sexual rights.” However, a small group of conservative countries were successful in blocking language on sexual rights, eliciting strong rebukes from delegations during the closing plenary: “Our governments will not be pushed backward for fear of accepting reality,” said the Philippines, while South Africa called for more “inclusive societies” and Norway stated that “discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity should not be tolerated in any society.” Nevertheless, support for sexual rights expressed in the room was unprecedented, and marked a historical moment in the ongoing struggle for universal human rights.
Governments will reconvene in September at the UN General Assembly to renew political support for the actions required to achieve the goals of the ICPD Programme of Action. With this in mind, and building on the outcomes of the Commission, it is imperative that Canada support allies, like Norway, South Africa and the Philippines, in building more equal and just societies based on human rights, respect, and dignity. “The denial of individuals’ sexual and reproductive rights is unacceptable and we must work to further commitments made in 1994 through greater attention to these critical human rights issues and the needs of the most marginalized.” said Prasad.