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Women's issues must remain central to sustainable development

<p>Feature story</p>

April 29, 2013

In 1994 at the International Conference on Population Development (ICPD) in Cairo, 179 countries adopted a landmark 20-year Programme of Action, placing gender equality and women's empowerment and reproductive rights at the center of population and sustainable development.

Last week, in a review of progress which took place in New York, a high-level task force strongly urged governments and the international community to take much bolder action in order to meet the commitments.

In a paper Policy Recommendations for ICPD Beyond 2014: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for All,  the task force outline specific steps to ensure that the commitments made become central components not only of next year's conference, but also the post-2015 and sustainable development goals agenda. The task force is also calling for increased accountability mechanisms to ensure concerted action by governments to achieve these goals.

Co-chaired by former Presidents Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique and Tarja Halonen of Finland, the task force is comprised of 26 eminent government, civil society, and private sector leaders. Its mission is to galvanize political will and advance a forward-looking agenda for the ICPD Programme of Action that fulfills sexual and reproductive health and rights of all people.

“While we are encouraged by the achievements of ICPD implementation, the challenge is that too many people around the world are still denied their sexual and reproductive health and rights,” said Former President Halonen. “These are fundamental freedoms and human rights that lie at the very core of human dignity.”

The global panel of experts highlighted four main recommendations for government action:

  • Respecting, protecting and fulfilling sexual and reproductive rights for all through public education and legal and policy reforms
  • Achieving universal access to quality, comprehensive and integrated sexual and reproductive health information, education and services
  • Ensuring universal access to comprehensive sexuality education for all young people
  • Eliminating violence against women and girls and securing universal access to critical services for all victims/survivors of gender-based violence

Within those four areas are recommendations for specific actions on a range of issues including; ending unsafe abortion, ending acts of violence against women and girls; and ensuring equality under the law regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV or other status.

All four key recommendations are highly relevant for UNAIDS and the global AIDS response. The HIV epidemic continues to disproportionately affect young women and girls, with infection rates twice as high as young men. Every minute a young woman is newly infected with HIV. Globally, AIDS is the leading cause of death in women of reproductive age.

UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Management and Governance, Jan Beagle, stressed that sexual and reproductive health and rights for women and girls, gender equality and the elimination of violence against women are central to the work of UNAIDS in achieving the targets of the 2011 United Nations General Assembly Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS.

“To achieve our objective of inclusive development rooted in equality and social justice, we need to leverage synergies across movements, bringing together the capacity and innovation of the AIDS response with movements to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender equality and the empowerment of women and young people,” said Ms Beagle.

The panelists at the launch were: Luis Ubiñas, President of the Ford Foundation; H.E. Tarja Halonen Former President of Finland, and Co-Chair of the High-Level Task Force for the ICPD; H.E. Joaquim Chissano Former President of Mozambique, and Co-Chair of the High-Level Task Force for the ICPD; Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund; Ishita Chaudhry, CEO & Founder of The YP Foundation, and Member of the High-Level Task Force for the ICPD; Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, and Member of the High-Level Task Force for the ICPD; H.E. Joy Phumaphi, Former Minister of Health of Botswana & Member of the Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health.