As heads of state get ready to sign on to the outcome document here in Rio, all eyes are on next steps – especially for the reproductive health and integrated development communities
, which have seen their hopes of mainstreaming their issues with the sustainable development agenda dashed.
The final outcome document can be found here
. USA Today reports
that opposition from a group of countries in the 11th hour stripped the text of critical reproductive rights language:
An initial draft of this conference’s outcome document stated, “We are committed to ensure the equal access of women and girls to education, basic services, economic opportunities, and health care services, including addressing women’s sexual and reproductive health and their reproductive rights.”Absent entirely is any explicit connection between reproductive rights, population dynamics, and sustainable development.
In the final draft, the stronger wording “We are committed to ensure the equal access” was switched to the weaker “We are committed to promote equal access.” The reference to reproductive rights was deleted altogether, after opposition from the G-77, a negotiating bloc of developing countries at the United Nations, and the Holy See.
But others, as we have heard repeatedly throughout the conference, insist that gender issues and reproductive rights have a strong and vital connection to sustainable development. Yesterday, USAID, the Aspen Institute, and the Center for Environment and Population held a discussion in the U.S. tent on this very issue, titled “Making Population Matter: The Demographic Dividend and Sustainable Development.”
As Vicky Markham of the Center for Environment and Population reports on RH Reality Check, the side-event aimed to demonstrate the effects of population dynamics, both positive and negative:
We have the largest youth demographic ever in the history of the world, and most developing nations have a “youth bulge.” This can be seen as a challenge, or opportunity, particularly if the focus is on providing development programs for child survival, family planning, reproductive health, and education. The importance of women’s empowerment was also central. But it’s not a given; it’s an opportunity only if we pay attention to these issues to increase the benefits of the “demographic dividend.”The demographic dividend, as described by USAID Deputy Administrator and panelist Donald Steinberg in blog post earlier this week, “is an opportunity that arises when a country transitions from high to low rates of fertility and child and infant mortality.” But it’s not just about ensuring access to family planning and reproductive health; youth-focused economic and education policies are also needed: “Maximizing the dividend requires social and economic policies that reinforce inclusion, equity, and opportunity across the entire population,” he writes. USAID is making a point of creating youth-focused policies for this reason, he said in Rio.
Carmen Barroso, regional director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s Western Hemisphere Region, pointed out that Latin American countries could not take advantage of the demographic dividend before recent societal changes occurred, including decreased fertility, increased urbanization (which leads to smaller families), and greater schooling and employment of women.
Seventy percent of world population growth is likely to be generated by Africa this century, said Eliya Msiyaphazi Zulu, executive director of the African Institute for Development Policy – and it is the only continent projected to continue to grow in the next century, he said. He called for redefining growth as more than GDP as that measure does not consider environmental degradation and its costs: “We must have other means to measure development.”
As heads of state and negotiators consider their positions at this conference – which many were hoping would make a much stronger statement – they might do well to ponder today’s comments from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
While I am very pleased that this year’s outcome document endorses sexual and reproductive health and universal access to family planning, to reach our goals in sustainable development we also have to ensure women’s reproductive rights. Women must be empowered to make decisions about whether and when to have children. And the United States will continue to work to ensure that those rights are respected in international agreements.Sources: RH Reality Check, UN, U.S. Department of State, USA Today, USAID.
Now none of this is an abstract discussion. There is just too much at stake, too much still to be done. And many of you visited the U.S. Center here in Rio and saw practical solutions related to some of the work I’ve discussed and other goals we hold in common. We believe solutions require action by all of us. Governments, yes; let’s do our part. Let’s do more than our part.
Photo Credit: YouthPolicy.org.