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Nairobi summit calls for rights and choices for all

Women’s rights at the heart of development

25 years after the ICPD conference 9500 delegates commit to getting the unfinished business done

In its Statement, the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 “Accelerating the Promise” sets out a clear path towards transforming the world for women and girls. Global leaders presented financial and political commitments to realising sexual and reproductive health and rights in order to end violence, discrimination and maternal deaths.

25 years after the groundbreaking International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), over 9500 representatives from more than 170 countries from government, academia, civil society, the private sector and religious communities came together to discuss how to advance women’s rights and empower youth to achieve the ‘unfinished business’ of the Cairo conference of 1994. The United Nations Population Funds (UNFPA) and the governments of Kenya and Denmark had called for the meeting at a timely moment as the international community has entered the “Decade of Delivery”, the 10-year sprint towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Its success depends on the principle of the Cairo agenda, which places people at the centre of policies for sustainable development and has improved the quality of life of millions of people. 

Without accelerating the promises of Cairo, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals will remain a distant dream. These promises address the rights and choices for all people to boost economic growth and social development – including health and education – in order to improve individuals’ livelihoods. However, to truly reach everyone, the international community will have to continue to pull together and to work hard.

While the conference was a celebration of the ICPD, the Executive Director of UNFPA, Dr Natalia Kanem, also urged stakeholders to react to the global challenges that persist: every single day, 800 women die during pregnancy and childbirth and 33.000 girls are forced into marriage. Every year, 4 million girls have to undergo female genital mutilation. And 232 million women worldwide women cannot prevent pregnancy even though they would like to – also due to gender inequality, making the empowerment of women and girls a priority. ‘When women awake, mountains move’, stated Kanem in the opening ceremony. 

A call for commitments to accelerate fulfilment of the ICPD agenda

While the good news is that solutions are for most of the above challenges are now available, it must also be acknowledged that too many of the ICPD goals, such as ensuring sexual and reproductive health and rights for young people and girls, have not yet been fulfilled. To change this, a call for financial and political commitments was launched in the run-up to the Nairobi Summit. On its first day, the South African Minister Jackson Mthembu delivered a statement for an alliance of 55 states including Germany underlining their re-commitment to ensuring that the ICPD goals be fulfilled before the end of the decade. The statement complemented the Nairobi Statement, a declaration on the achievement of the ICPD agenda in the years to come.

In response to the Summit’s call, over a thousand commitments were made – to provide for modern contraceptives, eliminate gender-based violence and harmful practices, such as FGM and forced marriages, as well as to end preventable causes of maternal death.

In the opening ceremony, the president of the Republic of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta – alongside Crown Princess Mary and the Development Minister of Denmark, as well as Natalia Kanem – stated that ‘women are the backbone of families and the bedrock of a nation’. In this spirit, he announced to commit to ending FGM in his country once and for all by 2022. 

Strategic partnerships will determine the success of interventions, as well as innovation and creativity. The private sector has committed to mobilising 8 billion US Dollars in the coming years, among them pharmaceutical companies, such as Bayer and Johnson & Johnson, philanthropies such as the Bill and Melinda Gates and Ford foundations as well as faith-based organisations like World Vision.

Germany’s contribution to ensuring the health, rights and choices of women and girls

Guided by the ICPD, Germany continues to invest in key sectors for social development, such as health, education, employment and social security. Part and parcel of all efforts is the empowerment of women and girls, creating opportunities and enabling them to live a self-determined life. The Parliamentary State Secretary Dr Maria Flachsbarth, a champion of the She Decides campaign, represented Germany as head of delegation and outlined Germany’s commitment to the ICPD agenda in a signature session on the Demographic Dividend. In pursuit of the Cairo goals, Germany will make available up to a 100 million EUR annually for the BMZ Initiative on Rights-based Family Planning and Maternal Health until 2023. The goal is for every pregnancy to be wanted and for every birth to be safe. In 2019, BMZ made available additional funding for projects in some key partner countries Niger, Malawi and Cameroon to improve quality of reproductive health services. Together with the German Foreign Office and Ministry of Interior, BMZ will work with partners from Africa and other regions of the world to foster exchange and mutual learning on Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through international policy dialogues and partnerships, starting in early 2020.

In this spirit of collaboration, Dr Flachsbarth used her journey to Kenya to meet important partners such as Melinda Gates and a representative of the Ministry of Health and Population of Malawi. 

Dr Flachsbarth at the Youth Empowerment Centre
Dr Flachsbarth at the Youth Empowerment Centre

Enabling young people to become actors of change

She also made sure to meet and listen to the very people that development policies aim to support. Kenyan youth and their stories were in focus as the German delegation visited local projects supported by German development cooperation. Dr Flachsbarth and other members of the delegation entered into a lively exchange with young men and women from Nairobi at the youth empowerment center in Githurai, a neighborhood in the Northeast of the city. As part of the VIVA program, a cooperation between KfW, the Kenyan Ministry for Public Services, Youth and Gender, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung and others, the center not only offers young people access to sexual and reproductive health services, but also lays a foundation for a better livelihood through income-oriented trainings. The empowerment of young people and especially women and girls is also the mission of Slum-TV, a community media project from Mathare. Slum-TV documents the daily life in one of the city’s largest informal settlements and shows its films to the people of Mathare through public screenings. As the German delegation learned during its visit to a training session for young women, Slum-TV also offers trainings in audiovisual media to hone the journalistic skills of young people and empower them to become the narrators of their own story. 

This resounds well with the Summit participants’ pledge to focus on the world’s most precious resource – its 1.8 billion young people. As Dr Flachsbarth emphasised at a panel discussion on the Demographic Dividend: Where young people are equipped with the necessary skillsets and given opportunities, they can and will become actors of change.

Further information

Julia Millauer, November 2019

© Marie Stopes
© Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development
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