It’s been 25 years since leaders from 179 countries met in Cairo, Egypt, for the historic International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) summit that put the global spotlight on sexual health and reproductive rights for the first time.
Leaders and key stakeholders pledged in 1994 in Cairo that sexual health and reproduction rights were human rights.
They promised to commit to reducing maternal deaths while also promoting access to information and services that allow women to take full ownership of their bodies.
Now, leaders are meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, to discuss how to fast-track universal access to sexual health and reproductive rights.
This is particularly important because even though great progress has been made in empowering more girls and women to access information and quality health care services, 4.3 billion people of reproductive age globally will lack access to sexual and reproductive services.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the ICPD summit on Tuesday, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta recommitted leaders to fast-tracking the delivery of objectives set by the Programme of Action, created 25 years ago.
The Programme of Action outlines the objectives set at the 1994 Cairo summit. These objectives are known as the 15 principles that work together to ensure that girls and women have access to family planning, safe pregnancy and childbirth services, as well as the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.
Here are five highlights from President Kenyatta’s speech:
1. There needs to be collective global action to ensure gender equality
The United Nations’ Gender Inequality Index (GII) notes that girls and women still face discrimination with accessing health, education, and economic opportunities.
This not only impedes their development but also that of the world, because discrimination denies half of the world’s population from reaching their full potential.
Kenyatta acknowledged that ongoing discrimination, and called on all stakeholders to ensure that the future doesn’t mirror the past and current status quo.
“We recognise that advancing people’s rights, in particular, women’s rights, their choices and their well-being, is the path to prosperous and resilient societies,” he said.
He added that women are the backbone of the family and the bedrock of their nations.
“And because our women are the gatekeepers to family health, they exert such a powerful influence on intergenerational outcomes for their children.”
“Empowering women essentially empowers all our families, empowers our societies, empowers our nations, and it empowers the world,” he added.
He said targets that have been set the UN Global Goals, which work together to end extreme poverty and inequality by 2030, will not be achieved if girls and women continue to be left behind.
“Targets were set to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development, increase access to education, achieve sexual and reproductive health, reduce infant and child mortality rates, reduce the maternal mortality rate, and also eliminate harmful gender practices,” he continued.
He added: “I also believe that we can commit to accelerate women’s equal participation and equitable representation at all levels of the political, public and corporate sphere.”
We stand in solidarity with the women who die giving life, with girls forced into child marriage, with girls whose genitals are cut & with the nearly 1 in 5 women/girls who are assaulted/lose their lives at the hands of a partner/family member each year. #ICPD25#KeepThePromisepic.twitter.com/lhIpnwsd2L— Amina J Mohammed (@AminaJMohammed) November 12, 2019
He said that advancing in women’s equality in the workplace would add an additional R180 trillion ($1.2 trillion) to global growth by 2025.
2. Gender-based violence has to end
An estimated 35% of women globally have been attacked physically or sexually by someone who is not their partner, according to UN Women, while some national studies indicate that around 70% of women have experienced sexual or physical violence perpetrated by their intimate partners.
Furthermore, UN Women added, 137 women globally are killed by a family member every day, while around 15 million girls aged 15 to 19 have experienced forced sex (intercourse or other sexual acts) at some point in their life.
Kenyatta said leaders and other stakeholders working to achieve the Global Goals should never forget the girls and women who don’t get the chance to share their experiences of violence on world stages.
“I am referring to the 1 in 5 women from all corners of the world that this year alone will experience gender-based violence, most likely from someone who is close to them,” he said.
The cost of this violence, says the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), is that the health and security of millions of girls and women around the world continues to be undermined.
Kenyatta continued: “Eliminate violence against women and girls. A woman has a 1 in 3 chance of experiencing physical or sexual violence in her lifetime. This is a major gap in our development record as a global community.”
3. Prioritise access to quality health care
Quality health care saves lives, yet it remains inaccessible for many women and girls — more so in the developing world. The UNFPA estimates that there were 295,000 maternal deaths globally in 2017, which is around 211 deaths per 100,000 births.
This accounts for 68% of all maternal deaths globally each year.
“The world faces increased health threats including threats from reproductive cancers such as breast, cervical, and prostate cancer,” Kenyatta said.
“This has made the Cairo commitments more urgent and more complex,” he added.
He said new partnerships between governments, civil society, and community leaders are needed to strengthen political support, increase health budgets, and support innovative solutions.
4. End female genital mutilation
More than 200 million girls in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East have so far been affected by female genital mutilation (FGM) — a practice that Kenyatta said remains one of most harmful violations of the human rights of girls and women.
“I would like to restate my personal commitment and that of the government of Kenya to providing the leadership necessary to ensure that this practice ends within this generation,” Kenyatta said.
I ask myself why is it that sexual & reproductive health & rights remain controversial when it’s so obvious that they are essential for the health and wellbeing of all - especially women & girls. @UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador— UNFPA Asia & Pacific (@UNFPAasia) November 12, 2019
Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, #ICPD25#NairobiSummitpic.twitter.com/KzJvwTGSaS
In April, the governments of Kenya, and its regional neighbours of Somalia, Uganda, Tanzania, and Ethiopia signed a declaration agreeing to end FGM by 2022.
5. End child marriage
Girls Not Brides states that while child marriages have been slowly declining globally, it still remains a significant stumbling block in ensuring that girls’ human rights are protected and respected.
“If current trends on child marriage continue, 150 million more girls will be married in childhood by 2030,” Girls Not Brides warns on its website.
Joan says, "Child marriage is a violation of a girl's rights."— Plan International (@PlanGlobal) November 13, 2019
Governments have committed to #EndChildMarriage by 2030. Now it is time to act at the #NairobiSummit#ICPD25#2030Agendapic.twitter.com/hUYCfyFXiu
Kenyatta said: “I believe we can all commit to eliminate child marriages.”
He added that the percentage of young women aged between 20 and 24 who were married before their 18th birthday has declined from 34% in 1994 to 25% in 2019.
“Early marriage denies our girls a chance to achieve their full potential in education and limits their socioeconomic contributions,” Kenyatta said.
Kenyatta ended his address by urging all stakeholders to strengthen meaningful partnerships that will ultimate ensure gender equality, and promote the autonomy of girls and women.
“The successes we celebrate today have been achieved through [the] efforts and coalitions by governments, development partners, civil society organisations, private sector leaders, religious communities, and women and youth organisations,” he said. ”We need to sustain and expand these partnerships.”