Parliamentarians Pledge Support for Reproductive Health Agenda

Members of parliament from 110 countries pledged to keep working towards the ICPD Programme of Action adopted in Cairo, Egypt in 1994.  -  Linus Atarah/IPS
Members of parliament from 110 countries pledged to keep working towards the ICPD Programme of Action adopted in Cairo, Egypt in 1994. - Linus Atarah/IPS
  • by Linus Atarah (istanbul)
  • Inter Press Service

After a two-day meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, about 300 members of parliament from 110 countries issued the Istanbul Statement of Commitment, reiterating their commitment to achieve the goals laid out in the ICPD Programme of Action adopted in Cairo, Egypt in 1994.

According to the statement, implementation of the programme is 'essential for countries to reduce poverty and social and economic inequality, improve the lives of their people and safeguard the health and rights of women, including sexual and reproductive health rights'.

'We will advocate for the allocation of increased funding for entire implementation of the ICPD agenda from national budgets, external donors and other sources, including the private sector, both local and multinational,' parliamentarians pledged.

Attendees also promised to strive towards allocating 10 percent of national development budgets and development assistance budgets to population and reproductive health programmes, including HIV/AIDS prevention.

Furthermore, country representative at the conference undertook to 'pass appropriate legislation, review existing legislation and mobilise strong support for laws consistent with the ICPD agenda and hold governments accountable so that such laws lead to sustainable development'.

This statement indicated a clear path towards implementing the ICPD Programme, whose original deadline of 2014 is fast approaching.

According to Fred Sai, a Ghanaian physician and family planning advocate who chaired the original drafting of the ICPD Programme in Cairo, one obstacle that has consistently stalled implementation, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, is the existence of antiquated laws regarding reproductive health rights.

Coupled with old customs and religious beliefs that are ready to penalise women for even getting pregnant outside marriage, progress has been slow.

'In many African countries the laws are ancient, dating back to colonial times,' said Sai, adding that anti-contraception laws still exist in the statue books of French-speaking African countries even though France, the former colonial power, has changed these laws several times over.

'Many countries’ laws still don’t allow abortions except when the life of the woman is in danger', despite the tremendous amount of research and development on abortions in the last thirty years, he added.

He also said family services are still not free in many African countries, leading to disastrous consequences. He related a story in which a young patient of his killed her newborn baby and, when asked why, said she could kill the baby for free but could not raise a family for free.

Therefore, he said, it is very important that parliamentarians are closely involved in the ICPD process, since it will be up to them to initiate necessary legislative changes on the ground.

He also said youth have an important part to play in the planning and delivery of sexual reproduction health services.

'The youth want to be part of the action, they want to be consulted,' Sai said.

Alex Wirth, an 18- year-old first year student of Harvard University and member of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, believes that if youth are exposed to issues early on in life, they could become lifetime advocates of reproductive health.

Wirth believes young people are unlikely to discuss sexual reproductive health with their parents, choosing instead to go online and discuss it with people they trust.

He advised parliamentarians to dedicate sections of their websites exclusively to discussions of these issues and provide concise, easily-accessible information for young people.

Reaching out to youth is best achieved through the mobile phone, he added. 'For my generation email is over. The mobile phone is the only thing that we have to get the message across.'

According to Neil Datta, secretary to the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development, if the ICPD is to chart a new way forward, policy makers will have to address the over- politicisation of sexual and reproductive health, the most controversial of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

He said that reproductive health, family planning, women’s rights and women’s empowerment are still controversial in many parts of the world, a situation that has proved to be a major obstacle to advancing the ICPD action plan.

Certain key figures and donors have infused the debate with their own ideology, Datta said. Chief among them are the Holy See and the Catholic Church who believe that sexual relations should only take place between heterosexual couples for the sole purpose of procreation, and preferably within the boundaries of marriage; but that is simply not the reality for a majority of the world’s people, according to Datta.

Though family planning is seen as such a basic and normal aspect of life in developed countries, where contraceptives are as easily accessible as Coca-Cola, the service has suffered from chronic underfunding throughout much of the developing world for the last 18 years, he added.

This lack of funding is not an 'innocent' coincidence. Rather, it is the direct result of a deliberate politicisation of the family unit, a fact that needs to be addressed in order to move forward on the ICPD goals.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan endorsed the ICDP action plan in his remarks during the closing ceremony yesterday.

He said Turkey has made great advances in the arena of women’s reproductive health, achieving a reduction of maternal deaths from 28 down to 16 of every 100,000 mothers last year.

Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), called on parliamentarians to return to their countries and redouble their efforts in empowering women and holding governments accountable to their funding pledges.

He said ICPD is an acronym that carries little meaning to ordinary people, even though it is about people, particularly women, having control over the choices in their own lives.

'I want to hear tales of success in different countries the next time we meet in order for us to demonstrate that the year 2012 was a successful year,' he told the 300 members of parliament during the closing ceremony.

© Inter Press Service (2012) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service