Conference puts rights of women, adolescents at center

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African government leaders met this week in Addis Ababa to plan a forward-looking agenda building on commitments made at the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) meeting in Cairo in 1994.
During the meeting held 20 years ago, leaders from 179 countries agreed to put the rights of women and adolescents, including their reproductive rights and health, at the center of population policies and sustainable development. The ICPD Programme of Action became a central foundation for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Organized by the Untied Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the African Union (AU) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), participating leaders at the meeting held from September 30 to October 4th reviewed the progress made on implementing the ICPD program of action and determined that work is still to be done.
It was stated that millions of lives have been saved and improved because of the Cairo agreement, but critical gaps remain. High rates of maternal mortality, adolescent pregnancy, and HIV/AIDS remain stark realities in Africa.
“The grim realities cannot be ignored as Africa celebrates its achievements in the area of human rights and empowerment of women,” said Joaquim Alberto Chissano, Co-Chair of the High-Level Task Force for ICPD and former president of Mozambique.
He also stated that policies and programs inspired by Cairo have saved and improved millions of lives in Africa. They have been levers for the continent’s increasing dynamism. “But more needs to be done to ensure a prosperous tomorrow, one where all of our people enjoy their rights, dignity and health. The future of Africa is at stake,” he said.
It was stated at a press conference held on Thursday October 3rd at the ECA that the outcome of the conference will influence policies across the region and contribute to a global forward looking ICPD agenda beyond 2014 as well as influencing the post 2015 development agenda.
Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for over half of the 800 maternal deaths that occur globally each day. The region’s rate of unsafe abortion is the highest in the world with over 5 million each year , 25 percent of which are performed on adolescent girls.
More than 45 percent of African women and girls experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. Thirteen million African girls under 18 are married, increasing their risks of early child-bearing, HIV, persistent poverty, and domestic violence. And over 4 million youth in Africa are infected with HIV.
“These are preventable problems with cost-effective solutions. Solving them is a matter of political leadership, backed by resources. None of our countries can afford to forgo opportunities to make sexual and reproductive health and rights a reality in the 21st century,” said Joaquim Alberto Chissano.
Among the recommendations provided at the meeting were enacting legal and policy reforms that respect, protect and fulfill sexual and reproductive rights for all. Accelerating universal access to quality sexual and reproductive health information, education and services was also mentioned.
It was also recommended that there needs to be universal access to comprehensive sexuality education for all young people both in and out of school and to focus more on preventing violence against women and girls.