Advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights in the new era of sustainable development
At the end of their meeting in Berlin on 28 and 29 October delegates of this year’s International Dialogue on Population and Sustainable Development agreed unequivocally that Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights must continue to be a priority in the new era of sustainable development.
The two-day event was hosted by Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, International Planned Parenthood Federation and KfW Entwicklungsbank, in cooperation with the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and Bayer HealthCare. It brought together stakeholders from government, non-governmental organisations and multilateral institutions under the banner ‘Health, Gender, Rights: Moving beyond 2015’.
Delegates engaged in a vibrant exchange on how to best use opportunities within the newly adopted 2030 Agenda including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ensure SRHR is central in the global efforts to fight poverty and injustice.
Keeping up momentum
“Over six million children are still dying each year before they reach their fifth birthday. That’s almost twice the population of Berlin,” Hans-Peter Baur, Head of Directorate Peace, Democracy, Human Rights and Social Development, BMZ told delegates in his opening remarks. “In developing countries, a woman dies every two minutes due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Germany remains committed to addressing these challenges and is dedicated to putting the goals of the 2030 Agenda into practice.”
Baur encouraged delegates to use the conference to share knowledge and harmonise strategies, in order to build on the momentum created by the new development agenda.
Klaus Brill, Vice President of Corporate Commercial Relations at Bayer HealthCare also saw the meeting as an opportunity to examine the post-2015 landscape. “We have not reached our targets and goals regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights,” he said. “However, our commitment remains as strong as ever.”
Marc Engelhardt from the KfW Development Bank was optimistic. “One major change brought by the new SDGs is the fact that health is no longer tackled as a set of individual indicators,” he said. “Today’s systemic approach, which includes economic and ecological aspects and a focus on sustainability, ensures that the concept of universal health coverage is the lowest common denominator.”
Opportunities for comprehensive sexuality education and adolescents
Delegates started out with an assessment of their efforts to make SRHR a global priority as the SDGs were being established. Many applauded stronger cross-sectoral relationships and joint advocacy for advancing reproductive rights and hoped to tap that same collaborative spirit as they pushed for improved access to sexual and reproductive health services and better support for young people.
Responding to this assessment, María José Alcalá from the High Level Task Force for the International Conference on Population and Development, encouraged fellow delegates to make use of upcoming opportunities to advance SRHR. “We have an open window for the next few months because all these global initiatives are being finalised,” she said.
“The indicators process for the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health is going to start soon,” she explained. “That is a huge opportunity for the things we didn’t get, like adolescents and comprehensive sexual education.”
She encouraged fellow delegates to consider every opportunity within emerging programmes of action. “These global initiatives will serve in a way as the means of implementation of 2030. They are our last entry point for things we care about,” she warned.
Meanwhile, civil society groups said there was still a need to build stronger relationships between the capitals and the permanent missions to the UN in New York, between regional and national players and between civil society, governments and the private sector. Some saw possibilities to build bridges by identifying linkages between SRHR and other issues such as economy, human rights and the environment.
SRHR, a crucial step towards enduring peace
In her keynote address, Kate Gilmore, the Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), applauded the successes of the Millennium Development Goals.
“These elevations of human dignity are driving social gains and we’re only just now beginning to reap true fruit. There are more girls now than ever before in school. There are more women participating in formal political leadership,” she said. “It’s a great report card for 15 years of development.”
However, she urged delegates not to slowdown following the adoption of the SDGs, arguing that SRHR would be decisive in securing safe and sustainable lives for all people.
Drawing out the global implications, she explained that “rural women are still up to three times more likely to die while giving birth than their urban sisters. And millions upon millions of women would use contraceptives, provided they had unfettered access.”
“The disempowerment of women and girls – thanks to human rights abuse – severely inhibits prosperity, gravely undermines peace, and is exacting a cost from this planet that none can afford,” she said. “It makes freedom from discrimination and harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation, absolutely critical to our future.”
Not giving up on rights
On the second day of conference, delegates were encouraged to break away and create their own workshops and discussion groups in so-called “open space” sessions. Many delegates said this was a valuable space where they could engage across sectors, levels of government and regions in order to amplify knowledge, highlight concerns and debate strategy.
Alanna Galati from the Guttmacher Institute led a session examining where the SDGs failed to address certain issues at the core of SRHR, including safe abortion care, nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and the need for sexual and reproductive health services. She said the open group considered the implications of barriers, stigma and discrimination that affect access to services. The issues concerned are also among the topics that the newly established Lancet Commission on SRHR – supported by Germany – will examine in the forthcoming months.
Meanwhile, financing for SRHR was addressed in a session facilitated by Maria Bordallo, a Development and Advocacy Officer with International Planned Parenthood, who called the discussion a “very interesting brainstorming session”. Her group formulated recommendations such as improving transparency in the flow of funding and positioning SRHR in order to benefit from new financing models and platforms.
To advance SRHR, participants assessed that forging strategic partnerships and alliances across disciplines, sectors and regions is absolutely crucial.
The two-day event drew to a close with remarks from Carsten Schmitz-Hoffmann, from GIZ. He thanked the delegates for their contribution, and encouraged them to see the International Dialogue on Population and Sustainable Development “not as an ending, but the beginning”.
“The strategies you have developed must now be put into practice – let’s spread the word from Berlin to Bali and then forward to the world,” he closed, making reference to the International Conference for Family Planning that will take place in Indonesia in the beginning of November, where the outcomes of the International Dialogue will be presented.
by Saroja Coelho