Reaffirming the Cairo promise for the rights and health of all

The UN celebrates 25 years of the International Conference on Population and Development

Ashley Judd, Goodwill Ambassador und Natalia Kanem, Executive Director, UNFPA

From April 1-5 2019, UN Member States came together in New York to celebrate the achievements of the International Conference on Population & Development (ICPD) in Cairo and discuss its continuing relevance for the 2030 Agenda. The message was clear: to achieve sustainable development, countries must invest in people’s needs and fulfill their human rights.

On this April Fool’s Day in New York, the UN Commission on Population and Development adopted a political declaration to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which took place in Cairo. Delegations celebrated the achievements of the ICPD, which, at the time, marked a paradigm shift: The Cairo Programme of Action put people’s needs and rights squarely at the center of development policy. In a high-level ceremony, delegations reaffirmed the importance of the ICPD and the recommendations of its review conferences for sustainable development and the 2030 Agenda. They called for accelerated implementation of the unfinished business – in pursuit of better health outcomes, higher levels and better quality of education, as well as the empowerment of women and girls.

Unfinished business blocks the road to 2030

Expert discussions and high-level panels paid tribute to the fact that the political push to realise the principles of Cairo had brought about important developments: Overall, people live longer, have better access to education and employment and more opportunities to lead self-determined, healthy lives. And yet, progress has been uneven between and within regions and countries, and not all people benefit from countries’ economic development. Challenges related to ageing, migration and urbanisation put additional pressure on states and societies when it comes to delivering health, education and housing and the much-needed employment opportunities for large numbers of young people. Members of the Commission agreed that to achieve the SDGs by 2030 the ‘unfinished business’ of the ICPD must be addressed.

Delegations expressed concern about the pushback on women’s rights and conservative attitudes towards sexual and reproductive rights that have emerged in many places, jeopardising hard-won gains in human development and gender equality. In her keynote speech, actor and activist Ashley Judd, who serves as Goodwill Ambassador to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) pointed out that ‘reproduction is behind all development and it underpins all elements of a country’s society’. She explained how her work with women and girls from Syria and Sudan who had suffered violence and coercion had convinced her that protecting individuals’ sexual autonomy and bodily integrity was imperative and an essential prerequisite for countries’ sustainable development. The conference’s Joint Statement, which governments of 50 like-minded countries signed, fully supports this notion. It calls for the realisation of sexual and reproductive health and rights as a matter of social justice and a necessity for the achievement of sustainable development.

Between data and decisions: Population dynamics as a cross-cutting issue

Panel discussion at the German House in New York

In keeping with its motto “Integrating population dynamics into policy and programme planning – Strategies and approaches from Germany and its partners”, a conference side event at the German House focused on hands-on experience and insights from practice to shed light on a crucial question: How can countries address demographic trends across different sectors?

Dr. Michael Frehse, Head of the Directorate-General for Community at the German Federal Ministry of the Interior gave insights into Germany’s national demographic strategy, emphasizing that stakeholders from all levels of government as well as civil society must be involved in policy dialogue on demographic issues. Victorine Enyonam Womitso Badohoun, Director of Population Studies with the Ministry of Development Planning and Cooperation in Togo, argued that planning officers from all sectors require not only access to reliable demographic data, but also sound demographic analyses as well as training on how to factor these insights into sectoral planning. Together with a representative of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), she recounted the lessons learned from a German-Togolese cooperation on factoring population dynamics in policy planning.

Dr. Elke Loichinger of the German Federal Institute for Population noted that demographic data and evidence-based policy advice are a critical precondition for demography-sensitive policies that leave no one behind – a sentiment shared by participants from partner countries of German development cooperation, multilateral agencies, and European partners alike.

Lea Gernemann and Julia Millauer, April 2019

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