Countries called on to reaffirm commitment to ICPD agenda

In November 2019, just a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, leaders across the globe, including Indonesia, had reaffirmed their commitments to advance Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) of their people during the 25th anniversary of the landmark Program of Action of the International Conference of Population and Development (ICPD) in Nairobi, Kenya.

“I was present at the ICPD 1994 in Cairo to witness 179 member states agreeing upon the landmark ICPD programme of Action that, for the first time, put individual rights and choices-with special emphasis on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights and Choices (SRHR)-at the heart of sustainable development,” said Bjorn Andersson, Director for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Asia and the Pacific region during a virtual conference on July 9, 2020.

The virtual conference, organized by the steering committee of the 10th Asia Pacific Conference on Sexual Reproductive Health (APCRSRH10), UNFPA and Citizen News Service (CNS), was held to commemorate the World Population Day, which fell on July 11.

“On 11 July, World Population Day, UNFPA aims to raise awareness about the sexual and reproductive health needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls during the pandemic and how we can safeguard hard-fought gains and ensure that SRHR stays on the local agenda,” said Andersson.

In the early days following the outbreak of COVID-19, Andersson said, The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres still expressed hope that the crisis would bring countries together to face, what he called, the biggest global public health, economic and humanitarian challenges since the World War II.

“But, after several months (of the pandemic), we are seeing grave challenges to achieve this vision, we are witnessing stigma, discrimination, race, and xenophobia manifested in various ways often dividing society and countries hindering effective responses to COVID-19,” added Andersson.

The pandemic has also presented significant challenges related to maternal health, family planning and gender-based violence and to ensure the continuity of SRH services in Asia-pacific, he noted.

The Asia and the Pacific region is home to 60 percent of the world’s population or around 4.3 billion people, including the world’s most populous countries-China, India and Indonesia.

Over 25 years since ICPD 1994, the Asia-Pacific region has made significant progress towards ending maternal mortality, unmet need for family planning, and gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls. But, significant gaps still remain, he added.

Twenty years ago, over 230,000 maternal deaths were estimated in Asia-Pacific each year. Today, the number has dropped to 79,000. “But, significant gaps still remain,” he added. In the region, more than 30 million women a year do not give birth in a health facility. More than 45 million women have inadequate or no antenatal care. More than 2 million women want to avoid pregnancy but cannot use modern contraception.

That was way, during the Nairobi Summit, around 26 countries from Asia and the Pacific penned a milestone statement comprising 152 commitments towards achieving the ICPD Programme of Action.

to all commitments made in Nairobi was the pledge to leave no one behind. This requires addressing the specific needs of marginalized groups and those in vulnerable situations, regardless of gender, age, sexuality or disability.

The Jakarta Post’s Stevie Emilia, however, reported from Nairobi while Indonesia strongly committed to live up to its promise to accelerate ICPD agenda, the country refuse to endorse the new Nairobi’s statement.

“While appreciating all efforts of the conveners, we are not in the position to endorse the Nairobi Statement due to our national regulations and policies,” explained Head of Indonesia’s delegation to the summit, Hasto Wardoyo, chairman of National Population and Family Planning Board, without offering details.

Hasto insisted 25 years after ICPD Cairo, Indonesia had achieved a number of targets in the context of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda in terms of regulations, policies and strategies on reproductive health, family planning and prevention of gender-based violence.

Hasto was also proud that the use of modern contraceptive has reached 50 percent; the age specific fertility rate for girls fall to 36 per 1,000 women; and the number of skilled birth attendance already reached 90 percent.

Regarding the country’s stance on Nairobi statement, a number of population and development experts in Indonesia assumed that the non-binding statement includes provision of safe abortion as “essential package,” and therefore Indonesian government could not endorse it.

According to Siswanto Agus Wilopo, professor and director of Gajah Mada University’s Center for Reproductive Health, abortion is only legal in Indonesia under certain circumstances (cases of rape, incest, or when a woman’s life is at risk).

“Worst, unsafe abortion is contributed to an estimated 10 percent of maternal death in Indonesia, which has the highest maternal mortality rates (MMR) in the ASEAN region (350 deaths per 100,000 live births, as compared to Singapore of only 11 per 100,000 deliveries),” the professor said.

In the current COVID pandemic, Andersson stressed: “We need to hold governments accountable to their commitments to the ICPD Programme of Action and the SDGs to build a better post-COVID Asia-Pacific.”

“We need to work together for societal change - so that the lives of women and girls are valued equally with the lives of men and boys. And, we must push back against the growing trends of conservatism that threaten our collective efforts,” he ended.

22 July 2020