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, STI’s, and pregnancy. Whenever I feel uncertain about my sexual health, I can consult with experts online or over the phone, make a doctor’s 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.