Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Outcome of the 47th CPD: a struggle for Sexual Rights

As the advocates and delegates are recovering from a very intense CPD that ended on Saturday morning 7.00 am, I finally find the energy to report about the final developments and outcome of the conference that took an interesting turn in Saturday’s early hours. 

Throughout the week, many governments expressed strong support for advancing the human rights of all to control all aspects of their own sexuality, collectively known as “sexual rights.” In addition, 59 governments explicitly called for action to end discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The calls came from countries as diverse as the Philippines, South Africa, the Pacific Islands, Viet Nam, Nepal, Mongolia, Suriname, the United States, Australia, Norway, the European Union, and most Latin American countries. These calls build on similar agreements made during regional reviews of ICPD in Latin America and the Caribbean and Asia and the Pacific in 2013.  

However, a striking lack of transparency and due process during the negotiations allowed a small group of conservative countries (African and Arab Group) and the Holy See to block language on sexual rights in the final agreement. These same governments also made several vitriolic attacks on the role of civil society in a clear attempt to silence progressive voices. The 11th hour move to block sexual rights elicited strong rebukes from many government delegations during the closing plenary: “Our governments will not be pushed backward for fear of accepting reality,” said the Philippines, while South Africa called for more “inclusive societies” and Norway stated that “discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity should not be tolerated in any society.”

Despite the fact that African governments affirmed sexual rights in a regional Ministerial agreement on ICPD Beyond 2014 in October 2013, many African delegations refused to accept inclusion of the term in the global agreement. Nevertheless, the support for sexual rights expressed in the room was unprecedented, and marked an historical moment in the ongoing struggle for universal human rights.  

While some delegates spent the night sleeping on their desk, others worked hard behind closed doors to keep strong language in the final outcome document. The end result was a clear trade-off whereby reference to sexual rights was removed from PP16, a sovereignty clause was included (OP2), and recognition of the regional reviews was weakened (OP17). The document was finally accepted at about 6 am on Saturday morning.

Although the document could be perceived as a disappointment in some eyes, my reflection after some good nights of sleep is that we have won a great deal in the whole ICPD Review Process and during the 47th CPD itself. The massive support from such an incredibly diverse group of countries for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, and all the topics that it includes (comprehensive sexuality education, safe and legal abortion, access to contraceptives, eliminating gender based violence, sexual orientation and gender identity) is unprecedented. It’s now time to fully focus on the new development framework that is to come after 2015. No time to sit on our laurels. 

by Rineke van Dam, Public Affairs Officer SRHR from Simavi

Saturday, April 12, 2014

3:40 am and still no 47th CPD outcome, reflections from a Malawi NGO

As a large group of delegates and advocates from all areas in the world are waiting for the outcome of the 47th CPD (at 3:40 am in the night!), Charles Banda from YONECO decides to write down his analysis of the situation, as related to his home country Malawi.

Civil Society Organizations from Malawi have commended Malawi Ambassador and Permanent Representative to United Nations in New York His Excellency Charles Msosa for his personal commitment in promoting the aspirations of Malawians. The Ambassador has been tirelessly representing Malawi in CPD day and night while attending to other side meetings as well. Earlier in the week a team of five officers from three organizations met the Malawi Ambassador on the Commission on Population and Development. These include Mac Bain Mkandawire and Charles Banda from Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO), Lucky Mbewe and Chisomo Dindi from Youth Empowerment for Civic Education (YECE) and IPAS Malawi. During the meeting that lasted for over two hours, the Ambassador responded to critical issues that the African group felt must be addressed in the CPD. His Excellency Msosa emphasized to CSOs that his office is always open for discussions on issues that affect and benefit Malawians.

Progress in Malawi
The CSOs shared the progress Malawi has made in the promotion of Gender Equality and Sexual Reproductive Health.  On the ground Malawi has done a lot and is considered to be very progressive in addressing issues of sexual reproductive health, population and development. In 2013 Malawi President went ahead and signed a comprehensive law on Gender Equality despite calls from religious leaders who felts it had sensitive sections. The president opted to look at the welfare of millions of Malawian women and girls than to please a few hypocrite and selfish individuals. Malawi has serious challenges on reproductive health. These include increases rates for maternal mortality, fistula cases among victims of forced child marriages and lack of access to sexual reproductive health services among the youth. The Gender Equality Act (2012) is expected to address the challenges as it has provisions against harmful cultural practices and promotion of sexual reproductive health and rights.

African Group deadlock
At the 2014 at the 47th CPD, Malawi CSOs noted that the African group is strongly opposing provisions that they feel may give room to sexual minority rights and comprehensive sexuality education. However this fear is baseless as the legal provision within the respective member state is still superior to international resolutions and laws. The CSOs wants Malawi to share the progress it is making on the ground while maintaining its subscription to African group.

Legal context
The agreement on the 47th CPD is expected to be made in the early hours of Saturday 12th April following African group’s reservations on article 16 (PP16) and other provision that made adjournments throughout Friday. The article 16 state “Recognizing that health is a precondition for economic and social development and aware that sexual and reproductive  health and rights, in accordance with national laws, are central to the realization of social justice and to the achievement of global, regional, and national commitments for sustainable development”. The African group wants the text to change to “sexual and reproductive health and rights” in line with the 2013 Addis Declaration of Ministers (African Regional Review Meeting). Advocates have been arguing that the inclusion of “in accordance with national laws” still give sovereignty to state parties. Charles Banda from YONECO said “it is unfortunate that the African group is not accepting the article when there is a sovereignty clause”. He explains that in Africa it is only South Africa and Namibia that when they sign international agreements it automatically becomes part of their national law. While majority have supremacy and sovereignty sections in their respective constitutions. Banda said in the case of Malawi any law or agreement we sign at international level cannot become part of Malawi law as they have supremacy and domestication sections in the Malawi Constitution. He said section 5 of Malawi Constitution state that “Any act of Government or any law that is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, be invalid”.  Banda added that section 211 of the same constitution demands an act of parliament for the domestication of international laws Malawi signs.

What next?
The outcome of the 47th CPD is yet to come as the meeting that started in the morning of Friday 11 April went over to Saturday morning of 12 April, reaching 3:40 am due to deadlock and continuous adjournments. Up to this point it is not yet clear whether and on what the countries will agree after negotiating for an agreed position that will fit all.

Chalres Banda, Media, Networking and Advocacy Offcer at YONECO Malawi, in collaboration with Simavi

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Silence before the storm

It’s Thursday 5 pm, and the international SRHR NGO community is flocking the entrance of the negotiation room. Actually, negotiations will only reconvene at 6 pm so I use my time to look back with you to the past day and half:

After skipping Monday due to a small negotiation room, the discussions went full force on Tuesday and Wednesday. The whole text was discussed, paragraph for paragraph, with particularly the African countries adding a lot of new text. Their intention was to delay the process to such an extent, that we can actually not reach agreed conclusions on Friday. While some countries within the African continent have very progressive national policies and laws concerning young people’s SRHR, safe and legal abortion, sexuality education amongst others, there has been a culture of domination by a few conservative African countries. Particularly amongst them Cameroon (who speaks for the continent), Egypt and Nigeria.

Charles Banda, from YONECO –Simavi’s partner- in Malawi: “Our country has a very progressive Gender Equality Act adopted in 2013, which contains references to safe and legal abortion, banning harmful traditional practices such as child marriage, and it strongly recognizes Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. It is frustrating to see my delegates align with the regressive African stance”. Unfortunately, countries such as Malawi do not speak up during the CPD. Ghana, who on Tuesday did speak out and introduced progressive paragraphs was forced back into the African Group position and had to withdraw their progressive paragraphs on Wednesday. A culture of domination seems to keep the African continent in a grappling deadlock.

On Thursday morning, the delegates received a ‘compilation text’ with all the suggestions made up to Wednesday evening. A 28-page document!! As this is impossible to negotiate (we would need a year), the chair was asked to make a streamlined text. At 2 pm this text was finally shared. Negotiations will reconvene at 6 pm… which we are waiting for now.

The streamlined text contains a lot of good references including SRHR and specifically for young people, comprehensive sexuality education, human rights, link with post-2015, gender equality and abortion (where not against the law). This document will now be on the table tonight and tomorrow, probably heavily attacked by amongst others the Holy See, Arab Group, African Group and Russia. While we and a great number of progressive countries from all over the world push for further advancements, including reference to ‘safe and legal abortion’.

It promises to be become a long day… we are ready for it, awaiting the delegates just outside the room.

by Rineke van Dam, Public Affairs Officer SRHR at Simavi

Roaring applause for youth representative Stefan Hennis

Yesterday Stefan Hennis, Board Member of CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality  and youth representative in the Dutch delegation presented his statement in the Plenary of the 47th session of the CPD. Stefan spoke very passionately about his personal experience on agenda item 4, which dealt with the national experience in population matters. Delegates and CSO representatives in conference room 1 were fascinated and listened carefully to Stefan’s statement. After his final words, the cheer and round of applause  was overwhelming!  Below you can find the transcript of Stefan’s statement:

Honorable chair, esteemed delegates,

My name is Stefan Hennis and I am a youth representative on the Dutch delegation. When my delegation asked me to relate our national experience to you through this statement I felt honored. This is a unique chance, not only to highlight our best practices and challenges as a country, but also to share these with you from a youth perspective. So I started asking myself, ‘what is my personal experience, my story?After searching long for something interesting to tell you, I can only conclude that my story is rather uneventful. Growing up in The Netherlands I have faced very little difficulties when it comes to my sexual and reproductive health and rights. I received comprehensive sexuality education in secondary school, where I learned about love, relationships, sex, STIs, and pregnancy. Whenever I feel uncertain about my sexual health, I can consult with experts online or over the phone, make a doctors appointment, and do a STI test at a local clinic. I live without the fear of unplanned pregnancy, as both my partner and me have easy and affordable access to modern contraceptives. And, personally, I have never been subjected to taboos, stigma or discrimination. I feel and I am privileged to grow up in a country that allows me to be myself and where my sexuality does not have to be an issue of concern to me. An uneventful story, because it contains no life-changing issues. But that might be exactly what makes this story so interesting.

This, honorable delegates, is what the ICPD agenda aims to bring to all the people in the world. Healthy, happy lives that take place in resilient and productive societies. That is why the Netherlands has always been a strong supporter of the ICPD agenda.

The Netherlands is very proud that its family planning strategies are mentioned as a best practice in the ICPD Global Review Report. The Report notes that our ‘pragmatic and comprehensive approach to family planning – especially for young people - has resulted in one of the lowest abortion rates worldwide.The Dutch approach empowers individuals to make informed and free choices by providing universal access to integrated sexual and reproductive health information, education and services, including the access to modern contraceptives and emergency contraception. Comprehensive sexuality education is obligatory from the age of 12 to 15, and optional for primary school children through special programs. It is the combination of these youth-friendly services and education programs that explains our success at preventing unwanted pregnancy and thus the need for abortion.

Another important aspect of Dutch development policy is focused on the emancipation and empowerment of women and minority groups. The Netherlands believes that all individuals have the human right to education, employment, and health care, regardless of their sex, age, ethnicity, and sexual orientation and gender identity. We have many programs that focus on the elimination of violence against women; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people; and against sex workers. Equal acceptance of people with a different sexual orientation and gender identity is a priority for The Netherlands. The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, and among the first countries where same-sex couples can adopt children. In order to increase the understanding and respect for LGBT people, sexual diversity is an obligatory subject in the sexuality education curriculum in high schools.

But we also face challenges in the implementation of our policies and programs. In The Netherlands there are many different groups from diverse ethnic backgrounds and with diverse cultural and religious values. These enrich our culture, but can also act as barriers. For example, adolescent girls with a non-Western ethnic background are four to six times more likely to get pregnant than adolescent girls from Dutch decent. Also, some young women and girls still run the risk of early and forced marriage or female genital mutilation, even though these practices are illegal in our country. Besides putting in place policies and legislation to prevent these practices, the Netherlands acknowledges that a strong intercultural dialogue is of key importance to reach those harder-to-reach communities and to learn more about different religious backgrounds.

A demographic challenge that The Netherlands faces is that of an ageing population. Where today there are 3.8 active workers to every retired person, this number will decrease to 2.5 in 2040. The pressure on my generation is building, as we will have to provide more healthcare and work until a later age to support the older generations. To fulfill this caring task young people need to be healthy, receive quality education, and to be able to freely choose their partners, and if and when they want children. This is just one example to show that economic and social development is intrinsically linked to the fulfillment of young people's sexual and reproductive health and rights. To set the stage for this, a strong intergenerational dialogue is very important, as well as the support and increased investment in meaningful youth participation at all levels of decision-making, policy-making, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation.

Chair, honorable delegates,

The Netherlands will keep on supporting the implementation of the ICPD Program of Action and of the outcomes of the ICPD beyond 2014 review, and will strive to ensure that these commitments are integrated into the post2015 development framework.

I hope to sit in this same room in twenty years again, at the ICPD+40 conference, and to only hear stories that are as uneventful as mine. Because that will mean that many of the commitments made here will have been implemented and that we can focus on the positive aspects of our lives.

Thank you.