Two Years After Nairobi Summit, High-Level Commission calls for urgent, ambitious action to end alarming disparities in sexual and reproductive justice

Two years on from the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 — where governments, civil society and the private sector came together voluntarily to recommit to realizing the promises of the landmark 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo — the High-Level Commission on the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 Follow-up has launched its first report.

Own Correspondent

The Commission, an independent advisory body of eminent leaders from around the world was formed to track progress on the 12 commitments in the Nairobi Statement.  In its report, “No Exceptions. No Exclusions”,  the Commission finds progress on some commitments, but overall notes a harrowing setback in sexual and reproductive health and rights around the world, and calls for ambitious, deliberate and comprehensive action to achieve sexual and reproductive justice for all, in particular women and girls.

“Shortfalls in financing, a disappointing lag in political accountability, and failures by governments to strengthen health systems, make them resilient and universally accessible have taken a heavy toll on women and girls’ rights,” said H.E. Michaëlle Jean, 27th Governor General of Canada, and co-chair of the Commission. Against the backdrop of a pandemic, and competing financial priorities, the report highlights that the absence of essential sexual and reproductive health and rights services – in line with the Nairobi Commitments and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – has resulted in more maternal deaths, unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, gender-based violence, and child marriage.

The pandemic has also laid bare the glaring inequities of people who face different, intersecting forms of discrimination based on their gender, race, age, disability, poverty, and status as a migrant or refugee. For these women and girls, even where they may have access to services, this does not guarantee their ability to realize their rights – or avail themselves of services – and they are some of the furthest behind. The data makes this clear – 94 percent of preventable maternal deaths occur among poor women in low income countries. An inability to access sexual and reproductive health services is one of the leading causes of death for women and girls in humanitarian settings, and child marriage is more common among girls who are poor and less educated.

The Commission calls for a bold change of course: for an agenda of sexual and reproductive justice.  “We must go beyond merely promising sexual and reproductive health and rights to ensuring that people have the ability to exercise their rights by removing the many barriers they face in health systems, families and societies,” said H.E. Mr. Jakaya Kikwete, Former President of the United Republic of Tanzania, and co-chair of the Commission.

Universal health coverage and stronger, more resilient health systems must ensure sexual and reproductive health and rights are essential services – and these should be free of charge. Women, adolescents and youth, people with diverse gender and other identities – and all those who remain furthest from realizing their rights – must have clearer and more influential inputs into how health care can meet their needs and uphold their rights, while there must be a collective pushback against regressive forces. Successful self-care and digital health options, borne out of necessity during the pandemic, should be expanded – while taking deliberate steps to close the digital gender divide.

“Sexual and reproductive justice is how we realize sexual and reproductive health and rights for all, for good,” said UNFPA’s Executive Director, Dr. Natalia Kanem, at a UNFPA-hosted, live-streamed event to mark the submission of the Commission’s report – which saw high-level engagement from around the world. “Justice depends on ambitious, well-financed action to make good on our commitments and realize, once and for all, the full promise of the ICPD Programme of Action.”

Dr. Kanem also commended the Commission for its important work in ensuring the international community maintains the momentum generated by the landmark Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 in 2019 and delivers on the commitments made.

More than 25 years on from the promise of Cairo, patterns of injustice continue to undercut human resilience and well-being for everyone, and as the world faces a climate emergency, increasing conflict and a potential doubling of humanitarian needs by 2030, there is a strong possibility that these existing, intersecting inequalities could deepen, with implications for individuals, families, communities, countries and the realization of the SDGs.

The pandemic has undoubtedly derailed progress towards our collective goal of a better, more equal future for all women and girls, but as the Commission’s report notes it has presented an opportunity to shift our focus: sexual and reproductive justice, backed by political will and investments that are inclusive and responsive to the needs of all women and girls, is how we can ensure that all women and girls can access the health care and resources they need to claim their bodies and futures. No exceptions. No exclusions!

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