THE rights of women and girls, especially regarding their sexual and reproductive health, are not up for negotiation. They should be given as a matter of fact and not as a matter of fight. The world must act now and accelerate efforts to empower women, end gender-based discrimination and violence, female genital mutilation and child marriages.
These were some powerful messages delivered by world leaders and representatives of non-governmental organisations on the first day of the Nairobi Summit on the 25th International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).
The three-day event aims to mobilise the political will and financial commitments to implement the Programme of Action agreed to by 179 governments in 1994, and confirmed unanimously in a political declaration in 2019.
The ICPD is organised at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi, and hosted by the governments of Denmark and Kenya and UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency.
"In 1994, the Cairo conference began the push to put women and girls at the center of global development. This has paid off time and again. But that ICPD vision is still far from reality," UNFPA Executive Director Dr Natalia Kanem said at the start of the summit, adding that it was now time to put an end to the unfinished business.
Highlighting gaps and challenges, speakers during the conference shared that more than 800 women were dying during pregnancy and childbirth every day and 232 million women wanting to prevent pregnancy were not using a modern contraceptive.
They called upon governments to intensify their efforts and invest more in women's healthcare.
Amina J. Mohammed, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, urged world leaders to put people first in their development agendas. "The bold, rights-based vision of the ICPD - that development must put people first, that access to health, education and human dignity must be equal for all persons - informed the bold vision of the 2030 Agenda," she said.
Reaffirming support on behalf of his country, Denmark's Minister for Development Cooperation Rasmus Prehn said Denmark would continue to work at the very front together with partners. "If we want to reach the 2030 agenda, we must fulfill the promise of Cairo," he said.
At a session on accelerating action to end violence against women and girls, speakers shared that globally one in three women experienced sexual violence in their lifetime whereas 39,000 child marriages took place in the world daily.
They were of the opinion that the root-cause of these issues was gender inequality, which needed focused and multi-sectoral efforts.
Findings of a study was also shared during the discussion moderated by Dr Gita Sen, Director of Ramalingaswami Centre on Equity, which showed that ensuring that school girls continue their education was the best way to minimise child marriages and that there was almost one third reduction in growth rate, if child marriages were avoided.
It also showed that child marriages increased the risks of newborn morality and under-five mortality.
The participants at the session also observed one-minute silence in memory of Jenniffer Schlecht, a UN advocate, who was recently murdered in New York City along with her daughter by her estranged husband.
At another session, private sector organisations pledged some $8 billion to achieve zero preventable maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning, zero gender-based violence and harmful practices by 2030.
"The private sector is indispensable to meeting the 'three zeros' of the Nairobi Summit," said Mariarosa Cutillo, head of UNFPA's Strategic Partnerships Branch. "Together, partners across sectors, from health care to technology as well as philanthropic foundations and civil society, have made inspiring commitments to the health and rights of women and girls," she said.
It is important, however, to mention that though the summit started well with a range of speakers sharing how the world could make progress on the ICPD vision, the participants faced a lot of troubles as they waited for hours to get their event badges.