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Putting sexual and reproductive health and rights back on the agenda

A summary of the 12th International Dialogue on Population and Sustainable Development in Berlin, 5-6 November 2014

Interview with Kadidiatou-Touré

After two days of lively discussion, the 12th International Dialogue on Population and Sustainable Development closed in Berlin on November 6, with delegates emphasizing that it is crucial to include sexual and reproductive health and rights in the emerging post-2015 development agenda.

Jointly hosted by Stiftung Weltbevölkerung (DSW), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), KfW Development Bank in cooperation with the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and Bayer Healthcare, the event brought together 91stakeholders from government, non-governmental organizations and multilateral institutions under the banner ‘ICPD and Beyond: Investing in Health and Rights’. Delegates tackled divisive issues such as comprehensive sexual education, gender equality and the high rate of maternal mortality in areas where sexual and reproductive health and rights are being neglected.

It is still time to worry

“Despite much progress in recent decades in terms of health indicators around the world, it is still time to worry,” said Günther Taube from Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in his opening remarks.

His concern was echoed by Ingrid-Gabriela Hoven, General-Director of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) who said: “Over 6 million children still die each year before they reach their fifth birthday. 222 million women still have no access to modern forms of contraception. 90% of them live in developing countries. They either don't know about effective contraceptives or have no way of getting hold of them.”

Klaus Brill, Vice President of Corporate Commercial Relations at Bayer Health Care urged delegates to use the time in Berlin to exchange strategies, improve negotiation tactics and find ways to focus future efforts on young people. “Sexual and reproductive health continues to be too low on the political agenda,” he said.

Different understandings of sexual rights hinder progress

Delegates first discussed their efforts to make sexual and reproductive health and rights a global priority during the ICPD (International Conference on Population and Development) review process, which recently came to end. They agreed that most countries supported improving access to sexual and reproductive health services, but that a small group of countries blocked progress on the issue of rights.

“Many partners didn’t specify what sexual rights is composed of, so most member states assumed it was LGBTQI [1],” said Kadidiatou Touré from the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health at the World Health Organization. “That was one of the more contentious issues.”

Touré added that, on the positive side, the ICPD review had allowed for more discussion of equity, youth issues and maternal health.

Investments in girls’ health and rights are crucial

But according to Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the needs of young people still aren’t getting enough attention. In his keynote speech, he said investing in the health and rights of young people - especially girls - would have a significant impact on the state of the world in the 21st century.

He asked delegates to imagine the life of a ten year old girl.

“Her future is totally, inextricably linked to the future of the world,” he said. “She is going be the one to provide solutions for climate change, for agriculture, food security, she is going to provide solutions for heath care, the very things that eluded us in the past - but we need to empower her.”

Keeping sexual and reproductive health and rights on the post-2015 development agenda

On the second day of the conference delegates discussed which strategies to employ to keep SRHR on the post-2015 development agenda. One issue that was seen as a challenge was the fact that during negotiations at the United Nations countries’ official representatives do not always adequately present their countries’ positions on SRHR-related issues. Possible reasons which delegates identified during the workshop included poor communication, coordination and lack of accountability within countries’ missions.

There was also broad discussion about how to define and protect rights. “We fight for the final R in SRHR because “rights” accrues services to people. It saves lives,” explained Zane Dangor, Special Adviser to the South African Minister of Social Development.

“In the short term, our main priority should be to protect the 17 goals that have been identified,” said Dangor, referring to a proposal from the UN General Assembly’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals.

Progressive nations must continue to speak up for sexual and reproductive health and rights

In the final hours of the conference, delegates were encouraged to break away and create their own workshops and discussion groups. Many delegates said this was where they learned the most from the seasoned negotiators and experts.

“I have learned that at times it is more important to speak as a nation than as a block,” said Yvette Kathurima, Head of Advocacy for FEMNET in Kenya. “In the current context, some nations may dilute progressive statements on SRHR. It’s therefore important for progressive states to speak as a national body that encompasses progressive laws as well as policies that have been ratified and signed.”

Kathurima said she was returning to Kenya with renewed energy and new strategies for getting SRHR included in the emerging development framework. “SRHR is an inalienable right, an indivisible right and it should be accorded to all because it is intrinsic to sustainable development.”


[1] Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex

Documentation and outcome document “Berlin Call to Action”

More detailed summaries of all conference sessions and the recommendations of the “Berlin Call to Action” can be accessed at http://12th.dialogue-population-development.info/

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