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