Wednesday, October 1, 2014 | News

At UN General Assembly marking 20th anniversary of historic Cairo conference, governments reaffirm women’s reproductive rights

a Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly at the end of
September, dozens of heads of state and other government leaders
described their countries’ progress in advancing women’s reproductive
health and rights, reaffirming the Programme of Action that came out of
the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo
in 1994.

In the words of United Nations Secretary General
Ban Ki-Moon, the Cairo consensus “was built on fundamental principles
affirming that development should center on people. It also emphasized
the value of investing in women and girls. And it affirmed the
importance of sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.”

President John Dramani Mahama of Ghana noted his country’s commitment
to the Cairo agenda, specifically praising the Reducing Maternal
Mortality and Morbidity (R3M) program in his country, in which Ipas is a
leading partner: “Its objectives are to support government to achieve a
39 percent contraceptive prevalence rate and reduce maternal mortality
due to unsafe abortion. R3M partners have provided long-acting and
permanent methods (LAPM) to 106,126 women, comprehensive abortion care
services to 133,291 clients. This resulted in averting 254,000
unintended pregnancies, 1250 maternal deaths and 161,000 unsafe

But even as nations reaffirmed the Cairo
Programme of Action, many countries and nongovernmental organizations
also expressed their frustration during the special U.N. session and
side events with the lack of progress in critical areas of sexual and
reproductive rights. South African Minister of Social Development
Bathabile Dlamini declared: “In Africa we are not doing well in terms of
the substantive economic emancipation of women. Women continue to be
marginalised by the mainstream economy. It is for this reason that
efforts to transform the economy…cannot be divorced from all sexual
and reproductive rights, including abortion rights and services, as part
of a comprehensive and more radical approach to reproductive justice.”

In a reference to persistent opposition
from conservative groups, she concluded:  “We cannot remain stuck in the
battle to retain the Programme of Action for the next twenty years – we
must build on it, so that next time we don’t spend time debating
whether we need it, but rather reflect on the progress that has been
made with extending reproductive justice to all of Africa’s women and
other marginalized groups.”

Ipas President and CEO Elizabeth Maguire,
who was a member of the United States government delegation to the 1994
conference, expressed her dissatisfaction with progress in addressing
unsafe abortion, a life-and-death issue for women that figured
prominently in the Cairo negotiations:  “It is deeply frustrating that
we have not been able to see stronger action in support of safe abortion
care by governments and international organizations in line with the
Programme of Action and subsequent international agreements.  In the 21st
century, we should no longer tolerate women continuing to die by the
tens of thousands each year when simple technologies could save their
lives and ensure their ability to exercise their fundamental
reproductive rights.”

At the Special Session, governments and
NGOs also looked ahead to the decisions still to be made about new
global development goals to follow after 2015, when the current
Millennium Development Goals will be replaced. Many leaders called for
the advancement of human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment
to be high on the post-2015 agenda, as well as the need and rights of
young people.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Anne C. Richard, in her statement to mark the Cairo anniversary, outlined additional priorities for the global community:  “To make reproductive health and respect for reproductive rights a reality for all, we must get health services to those who still lack them, including many women, young people, and those caught in conflicts and crises.  We must also stand up for every individual, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and for their ability to make their own choices about sexuality and reproduction, and to make these choices free from coercion, discrimination, and violence.”

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