NGO Forum on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Development

Global Partners in Action: NGO Forum on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Development, Invest in Health, Rights and the Future is taking place in Berlin, Germany, 2-4 September. The Forum provides a venue where non-governmental organizations and other partners convene, exchange experiences and discuss strategies that have worked in making a difference. Special emphasis is being placed in involving young people to ensure that the ICPD vision of participatory development is owned by coming generations and made relevant to our rapidly changing world. The conference is co-hosted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

Civil society played a central role in the birth of the Cairo Programme of Action and civil society still has a crucial role to play as a developer of ideas, an implementing force and an advocate for all stakeholders. Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Member of the German Bundestag and German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development in her opening address mentioned that the German government and she personally have always seen the implementation of the Cairo Programme of Action and the achievement of the 5th Millennium Development Goal – universal access to sexual and reproductive health services and lowering maternal mortality – as issues of prime importance. Between 1995 and 2007, more than 1 billion US dollars were provided under bilateral German development cooperation for measures in the field of family planning and reproductive health including HIV/AIDS control. She said, “We are pursuing an approach based on universal human rights that rejects any form of discrimination or violence: promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment thus become the key to poverty reduction, economic growth and social development”.

Minister Wieczorek-Zeul further stressed, “Particularly in these times of economic and financial crisis, it is important that we pay special attention to the rights of women, the health sector and social protection. I call on both the governments in our partner countries and the donor community in equal measure to continue their implementation of our shared commitments.” She has launched the “Berlin Clarion Call: The Spirit of Cairo Lives On” the focus being realizing women’s rights. Every form of violence against women is absolutely unacceptable. There must be a universal access to health services without discrimination which includes modern methods of family planning, affordable drugs, HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care for people living with HIV and safe methods of abortion in line with human rights.

Ms Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, UNFPA Executive Director stressed three areas that require priority attention. The first is improving maternal health, within the broad framework of the right to sexual and reproductive health, expanding access to family planning, and strengthening health systems. Progress is underway in countries and the momentum to achieve MDG5 has to be continued; this is prerequisite to the empowerment of women. The second priority is advancing the right to sexual and reproductive health of young people. Youth leadership should be fully supported, and there is urgent need to address continuing high teen birthrates and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. The third is ending discrimination and violence against girls and women and impunity.

There is urgent need to focus on enforcement, implementation and building public awareness, with men as partners for equality. Ms Obaid highlighted, “Universal access to reproductive health is now part of the Millennium Development Goals, as a target under MDG 5 to improve maternal health, which paves the way for greater progress. Stronger action is being taken to link policies and programmes for HIV and AIDS with sexual and reproductive health, which will magnify the impact of these interventions. And gender and reproductive health are now addressed more than ever before in humanitarian response benefiting displaced persons and refugees.”

Helen Clark, Administrator United Nations Development Programme UNDP in her opening remarks stated, “I believe women have the right to make their own decisions about whether or when to have children, how many to have, and with whom, and then to receive support and care to give birth safely. Women’s sexual and reproductive health will also benefit from better education, reduced poverty and hunger, and from the progress we make in reducing the spread and prevalence of HIV and other diseases.”

UNDP’s mandate is to promote gender perspectives in development. The HIV/AIDS response pays special attention to addressing the particular vulnerability of women and girls, and to tackling the effects the epidemic has on their lives. In the areas of crisis prevention and early recovery, UNDP works to address justice and security for women and violence against women. UNDP works along with other partners to implement Security Council Resolution 1325, promoting women's contributions to conflict resolution and building sustainable peace. Pursuant to the Security Council’s strongly worded resolution 1820, UNDP also plays a role in finding solutions to the scourge of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict and post conflict areas. UNDP’s partnership with civil society is very important for this work, needs to strengthen further.

All actors in development, regardless of their specific mandates, need to work closely together, across governments, NGOs, the private sector, foundations, and multilateral agencies to support universal access to reproductive health.

Ishdeep Kohli-CNS