Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Evaluating the Essence of the ICPD and its Relevance Beyond 2014

Wednesday, March 19, 2014
By: Kenneth Oliko, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

In September 1994, The United Nations coordinated an International Conference on Population and Development, which was held in Cairo, Egypt. The event, which had about 20,000 delegates from several government agencies, NGOs and UN agencies, focused on discussions that centred on delivering basic human rights and improving the lives of billions of people living in poverty.

The conclusions and program of action that emanated from the conference serve as a major document which has guided both the work of most organizations such as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and also the formulation and implementation of policies and programmes around the world since 1994. The Cairo conference specifically focused on universal education, reduction of infant and child mortality, reduction of maternal mortality and family planning, mainly from the angle of increasing access to reproductive and sexual health services.

For education, the delegates set the goal that by 2015 universal primary education must be available in all countries and to all children. The target also had women in mind, as it pushed and advocated for women to be provided with increased access to secondary and higher education, including technical training and vocational studies.

Countries participating in the conference also agreed to work at reducing infant and under-5 mortality by one-third or by 50-70 deaths per 1,000 by the year 2010. It was also agreed that by 2015, all countries would aim to achieve a rate below 35 per 1,000 live births and under five mortality rate below 45 per 1,000.

Delegates from 179 countries agreed that every country must have recorded a reduction by half the 1990 levels of maternal mortality by the year 2000; by 2015, nations of the world must have halved the rate. Considering the gap between countries who have made a significant headway in reducing maternal mortality and the poor nations and regions with high and startling maternal mortality figures, the delegates at the ICPD conference concluded on narrowing such disparities that exist between regions, ethnic groups and essentially within countries.

There was controversy and misunderstanding at the conference with regards to the issue of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). Just as it was back in 1994, these misgivings on the interpretation of SRHR continue to evolve over the years. In Cairo, “reproductive rights” was seen as meaning right to abortion, hence, implying that abortion was a means to family planning. With increased awareness, countries have reduced their stringent stance on abortion laws in line with implementing safe abortion policies. That aside, the conference agreed that there must be tremendous improvement on services that concern HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, infertility, and Female Genital Mutilation. Delegates agreed that more attention must be paid to family planning counselling, reproductive health education, prevention and proper management of consequences of unsafe abortion.

The ICPD Programme of Action, has been remarkable in pointing out that solving population related challenges around the globe is directly related to reproductive health and rights, including women's empowerment and gender equality. To this effect, so far, the ICPD has been able to tackle a couple of human rights challenges by approaching the issue of population from the prism of improving access to education for women at the grass roots level.

Some have argued that the ICPD goals are lofty saying that some of the goals are not realistic, and that more emphasis should have been placed on regional goals rather than the effort and loads of discussions that went into the global targets. However, in many ways, the ICPD has spurred more nations to action than it would if no goals were set in the first place. Many of the goals at the same time have been integrated into the UN Millennium Development Goals, which have a deadline of 2015. The action plan for the ICPD is meant to officially come to an end this year. But considering that there is still so much work to be done in many countries and regions, and that these goals are still valid, it has now become an important issue to think on, and to consider if these objectives should remain after 2014 or otherwise. The 2014 that seemed to be far reaching is here and in less than 300 days or so 2015 will be here, too. The big question is what will happen to the structure and zeal that has been ignited for maternal and sexual reproductive health and rights across the globe, when ICPD and the MDGs reach their deadlines?

It’s already clear that many countries are still lagging behind from what is expected and there is no doubt that all countries will not have achieved the MDGs by 2015.

So what is next?

Some advocates are suggesting that the MDG 4, 5, and 6 be collapsed into one main goal, so it can essentially make room for other issues and challenges facing the world like terrorism, non-communicable diseases and other pandemics.

Others have argued that the MDGs be merged with the ICPD so they remove some of the smaller differences they have in terms of target focus and concentrations. Then, attention can be directed at how the new post 2015 goals can be improved upon. In doing this, solutions which have yielded results in the past can be retained and strengthened. This will allow advocates and stakeholders who have worked on these issues in the past to listen more, so as to better understand and address the criticism and concerns from people all over the world, most especially people at the grass roots level, especially the young.

We definitely cannot deny the fact that agile responses from the grass roots and remote areas is key to improving these goals and also the importance of involving young people, and why they should be at the centre of many of these projects and conversations?

Moreover, developing countries need to harness the strengths and advantages of having a population of young people who only need to be educated and empowered to turn the fortune of their nations around, hence harnessing the benefit of the youthful population bulge which many developing countries currently enjoy. There are more people today under the age of 25 than there has ever been, sadly most of these adolescents and young adults do not enjoy challenges that utilize their skill and allow them fulfil their full potential. Many remain dependent on parents and guardians for longer than necessary.

As the world charts a new turn, nations must see the importance of investing more in educating people on family planning and on sexual right issues, in order to reap the economic surplus which the demographic dividend portends.

Casting our minds back reminds us that children who were born around the time when the ICPD was held in Cairo are now 20 years old. Young people of today have peculiar challenges quite different from the challenges faced by the youth then.

Kenneth Oliko is a consultant at the African Union Commission. A development expert with experience in corporate/brand communication and media/public relations, he is @KenOliko on twitter.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect official policy or position of Connect African Development.

Editorial Team.

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