IPCI 2024: Oslo Conference Focuses on Parliamentary Power over Reproductive Rights

Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, gives the keynote address at the 8th International Parliamentarians’ Conference on the Implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action (ICPD). Credit: Naureen Hossain/IPS
  • by Naureen Hossain (oslo)
  • Inter Press Service

Over 170 parliamentarians from more than 110 countries, UN experts, civil society leaders, and other stakeholders are expected at  the 8th International Parliamentarians’ Conference on the Implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action. 

The IPCI conference, which starts today (April 10, 2024), will facilitate dialogue and cooperation to improve parliamentarians’ capacity to improve sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) across the world. It is grounded in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, leading up to the 2024 Summit of the Future this September. This year’s conference is organized by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (EPF). The conference is hosted by APPG Norway and its secretariat, Sex og Politikk, Norway’s parliamentary group dedicated to sexual and reproductive health rights.

In recent years, many countries have seen a regression of SRHR across the spectrum, from banning family planning options such as legal abortions to suppressing or attacking women’s presence in national policy and the continued practice of female genital mutilation.

Governments have passed legislation that limits reproductive rights and access to basic services, which impact the general population and, more often, vulnerable or underrepresented communities such as refugees, internally displaced people, and LGBTQ+ groups. It speaks to a spread of fundamentalist viewpoints influencing public policy and opinion and the strengthening of anti-human rights parties, according to EPF President Petra Bayr.

If these developments—or regressions—in global SRHR are to be challenged, then they could be countered through evidence of the impact of comprehensive SRHR and the belief that self-determining one’s body, reproductive, and sexual life is a realization of fundamental human rights, according to Bayr.

She told IPS by email, enforcing this will take hard work that, among others, “lies in the hands of many committed MPs who believe in the universality of human rights.”

“Fundamental human rights issues must never be dependent on ideology and religion.”

During Wednesday’s opening ceremony, UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalie Kanem addressed the conference by remarking on the role that parliamentarians play and the influence they can wield when working across the political spectrum to advance a shared vision of rights for women.

“Parliamentarians around the world have been instrumental in the achievements of the past three decades, speaking up for those whose voices often go unheard and passing legislation to protect women and girls at home and abroad,” she said.

Despite the setbacks in achieving universal access to SRHR, the strides should not be forgotten. The ICPD Programme of Action, first adopted in 1994 and then extended in 2010, remains a critical guideline for its goals in population and a keystone for sustainable development.

As Bayr notes, the ICPD made reference to people's needs in humanitarian settings and the diversity of family dynamics, concepts that remain relevant in the present day. “The focus on the impact of population policies on the environment, sustainability, and fair distribution of economic values is even more pressing than it was 30 years ago,” she said.

“There is still a lot to do and we have to consider very carefully how we invest our potential. We will need energy to defend what we already have, but we still need enough power to make relevant steps towards all these goals we haven’t met yet.”

This year, IPCI will focus on three common themes from the ICPD agenda. These themes will be observed through their impact on and ability to achieve universal access to SRHR:

  • Converging megatrends, such as demographic diversity and the climate crisis.
  • Digital technology, more specifically the forms of violence employed online or through technology, which UNFPA refers to as technology-facilitated gender-based violence.
  • The funding landscape of SRHR in a time where governments’ priorities are threatened by security concerns

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