Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Young voices in an intergovernmental and intergenerational conversation

Lotte Dijkstra is Dutch Youth Ambassador for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and reflects on her first time attending the Commission on Population and development.

Waiting for my plane to depart, I have time to reflect on last week. It was an eventful week, where youth and SRHR were much debated topics. In this year’s Commission on Population and Development youth were notably present – both in delegations and in civil society. I might be biased in this respect, being young myself, but the words ‘youth’ and ‘adolescent’ also seemed to be on the lips of many less young delegates.

After weeks of brainstorming, writing and revising, I began the week with delivering a statement on behalf of the Netherlands. The nerves that had been stacking up in my stomach all day, soon disappeared when I noticed the room was paying attention. Halfway trough, at the words “I’m here (…), not despite my age, but because of my age” the room applauded, encouraging me to continue. When I finished, and the applause rose again, I felt incredibly honoured to have had the opportunity to speak in front of this audience of government officials and CSO representatives.

What truly highlighted Monday though, was the UNFPA and UN DESA reception. Not so much because of the reception itself, but because so many delegates, some from the more conservative countries, came up to me to talk about my speech. This lead to many inspiring conversations about young people in the respective countries, about the issues they face and about the courageous ways they work to resolve them.

Tuesday continued with meetings with the Secretary General’s Special Envoy on Youth and UN Women. It gives great hope to see the interest of UN agencies in youth, something I hope will be followed by governments too. Wednesday was marked by two side-events on youth, in one of which I was a panellist. The highlight of the event was the personal story told by Brenda Mbaja. The high number of attendees to these side-events, once again showed how much interest in youth there is.

The panel at the Young people in post-2015 side-event
After a Thursday with meetings at UNFPA and UNAIDS and many more conversations with enthusiastic delegates and young people committed to SRHR, Friday was time for the resolution to be adopted. After two weeks of negotiations, countries had not yet been able to agree though, especially concerning the topic of sexual and reproductive rights.  Because of this, the chair composed a chair’s text, to be adopted on Friday. Much to everyone’s surprise though, the African group objected and no resolution was adopted.

Although not adopting the final resolution at CPD is unusual, it does not mean this CPD was not fruitful. The intense debates of last week show that we all care tremendously for population issues, and that we must continue the conversation. It is a conversation that filled the air this week, and a conversation I hope to engage in much more this year. A conversation characterised by what one delegate said to me this week; “This shouldn’t be a fight of young people versus older people, or of women versus men, because it is about the rights of all of us, about a better future for everyone, a future we should work together towards.” 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Final day of CPD48: the anti-climax

Friday 17 April, the last day of CPD48, began with a lot of tension in the air in- and outside Conference Room 4, the CPD plenary room of UN Headquarters. Day 4 had ended with a lot of contested paragraphs still on the table, with very little negotiation time left. During the morning briefing for progressive NGOs, the message was clear: "What we have as draft resolution text right now is not bad at all. Proposed paragraphs on SRHR and related issues only need minor changes, but are still contested. Countries and regional groups have until 11 am to discuss contested paragraphs and then until lunch to negotiate. We hope they will reach an agreement including strong paragraphs on our issues. But if there is no agreement, there will be a Chair's proposal. And as the Chair will then revert to agreed language and agreed language on SRH is pretty good, we will still be OK, even though we will lose text on sexual rights (SR)"

With this message, we went to the delegates of our respective countries, giving them some final language advice. And then the long waiting began. 11 am came and went, lunchtime came and went... By 3 pm, there was still no agreement, but no Chair's proposal either. The plenary session was therefore opened and immediately afterwards suspended: the only thing announced was that the Chair's proposal would soon be there and that the session would resume at 4.30 pm. 'Soon' turned out to be another hour of waiting: the long-awaited final text only arrived at 4 pm, and as a consequence, the plenary did not resume until 5.45 pm, only to be suspended for another 15 minutes right after it started. Some of the NGO participants started to experience a feeling of déjà vu: in 2014, the session also ended with a Chair's proposal, and the plenary was then also suspended for "15 minutes" only to be resumed early Saturday morning... "Get your sleeping bags out" they joked after the 15 minute suspension was announced.

Fortunately, the Chair lived up to her word. The plenary session was resumed at 6 pm sharp with the announcement that the Resolution text on the table was the Chair's proposal and the final text. No language changes would be accepted: the resolution would either be adopted by consensus, or withdrawn by the Chair. Given that the final text indeed only contained agreed language, everyone expected adoption by consensus, with perhaps statements from some that they would have liked to have seen less text on certain issues and statements from others that they would have liked to see more. But then the unexpected happened: the African group representative was the first to take the floor. He hinted that the group couldn't agree with the text and wanted a discussion with the Chair on how to remedy this. Immediately after this statement, the Chair withdrew her proposal. The 48th CPD thus ended without an outcome document!

The disappointment about this anti-climax, omnipresent amongst progressive NGOs and States, was eloquently put into words by Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA. He stated amongst others that "countries did not do what they should for their citizens by not adopting a resolution". Several others also expressed their disappointment, or came with a strong statement with regard to the relevance of issues discussed by the Commission. Among the latter was the statement of the Netherlands Permanent Mission to the UN, which made the case for inclusion of SRHR including gender-based violence and rights of young people, adolescents and women. Let's hope that this and other strong statements will make it into the Chair's summary of discussions that is expected on the CPD website shortly!

Nienke Blauw, Public Affairs Officer SRHR at Simavi, attended the 48th CPD with her colleague Lara van Kouterik and partners form Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Uganda.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Day 4 at CPD48: Capital vs. mission

It's day 4 of the 48th CPD. This morning, the plenary session and negotiations were going on at the same time. Because the informal consultations were moved to a smaller room, only one person per country was allowed to participate in the negotiations. This generally is bad news: it is usually the Permanent Mission representatives that then head the negotiations and they have a tendency to care more about the diplomatic process than following laws, policies and commitments made by their government.

In the case of Malawi, for example, government is progressive when it comes to comprehensive sexuality education. This is also reflected by the comments that the Malawi Minister of Youth was making at our side event yesterday. However, the Permanent Mission representative on the Malawi delegation did not want the terminology on CSE to be in the Malawi country statement in plenary. You can only imagine what this means for negotiations: he will not speak up for comprehensive sexuality education in the resolution...

The African partners that Simavi brought to New York this week are getting more and more frustrated to see how the mission delegates from their respective countries are not respecting the earlier commitments made by their governments. As one of them said: ‘We have progressive and comprehensive laws and policies in our country. Why are they being ignored here? We are going backwards!’

By the end of the day, a new draft of the resolution by the facilitator came out. It seems like the references to the ‘Right to Development’ as well as a strong statement on ‘financing for development’ are getting a way in. Argentina proposed a separate paragraph on the acknowledgement that sexual rights are being protected in some countries; which of course is highly applauded by us and other SRHR advocates! However, the more contested paragraphs with references to CSE, SRHR, abortion and youth rights are still open and not being agreed on. The conservative states are trying get more conservative paragraphs on ‘family life’ in, as well as many references to sovereignty and ‘with respect to religious and cultural norms and values’ when it comes to SRHR issues.

Generally the opposition is quite present the past days; both in side events as well as in space in the Vienna café where CSOs meet. Our ‘hub ‘ (the coloured couches in the back of the Vienna Café) has been slowly infiltrated by grey men and sternly looking women who try to talk to African delegates in particular on the “danger of contraceptives”.  The pro-life community seems to have a strong presence as well. Somebody even spotted them handing out small baby dolls (fetuses?) in plastic bags!! During the plenary this morning, only two CSOs were allowed to give their statements; a pro-life organisation being one of them...

Although the days are becoming longer and longer (and the nights consequently shorter and shorter), we remain full of energy to keep advocating for SRHR and specifically the rights of young people to be included!

Lara van Kouterik and Nienke Blauw from Simavi are attending the 48th CPD together with CSO partners from Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Uganda.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Negotiations, Youth Power and Strategic Advice on Post-2015

Today, Wednesday 15 April, marked the third day of the 48th CPD. it was a day full of events, but with slow progress on the negotiations...

Yesterday, the first 'negotiations' since the start of the official session (after a week of informals last week) took place. These negotiations were on the preambular paragraphs of the resolution and did not result in much agreement. Countries mostly stated and repeated their positions, which differed widely. The African and Arab groups were amongst others pushing for the deletion of references to reproductive rights and for the inclusion of a sovereignty clause. 20 other countries, including the Netherlands, were, instead, asking for a referral to sexual and reproductive health and rights. At the end of the day, the Facilitator promised to prepare a document with altered preambular paragraphs. This document with preambular paragraphs was shared around lunchtime today.

Before preparative discussions with, within and between delegations and later negotiations started again, two strong side events on meaningful engagement of young people and SRHR took place. The first, co-hosted by the Permanent Mission of Ghana, the SRHR Alliances of Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Uganda and Simavi, entitled 'Voices of Young Africans on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights - Identifying Steps towards Post-2015 SRHR Interventions', brought together African youth representatives and CSOs, the Ministers of Social and Allied Agencies and Social Development from Ghana and South Africa respectively as well the Director of the High-Level Task Force on ICPD. Clear experiences and opinions were shared and the MInisters, visibly impressed by the youth representatives, spoke out strongly in favor of Youth SRHR. This is not likely going to alter negotiations, but it is nevertheless an encouraging signal for youth SRHR advocates! Encouraging words also came from the Director of the High-Level Task Force on ICPD: she presented a long list of ideas and opportunities to ensure voices of young Africans are taken into account in the Post-2015 Agenda (summary will follow).
Last but not least, an inspirational speech was delivered at the second side-event on meaningful youth engagement, co-hosted by the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality and Dance4Life.

Both side events have encouraged us as advocates. Despite the fact that negotiations during the evening did not result in many agreements, we will continue pushing delegations for a document which includes strong language on SRHR, gender equality and rights of women, girls and young people.

By Nienke Blauw, Public Affairs Officer SRHR at Simavi. She is attending the 48th CPD with her colleague Lara van Kouterik and partners from Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Uganda.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

48th CPD: Making sure the voices of Young Africans are being heard!

This week is one of the most crucial weeks in the year for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights advocates around the world. During the 48th session of the Commission on Population and Development at the UN headquarters in New York, delegates from countries around the world discuss the integration of population issues in the post-2015 development agenda.  This is crucial, as it will set the agenda and priorities for programmes and interventions beyond 2015.

Simavi has brought different partners of the SRHR Alliances in Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Uganda to New York to make sure that the voices of African civil society are being heard, and the issues that are being faced by (young) people in communities in Africa are taken into account when making global commitments.

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and especially the rights of young people are crucial when it comes to development and global equality. The rights of young people, women and men to fully and healthy enjoy their sexual and reproductive lives should be protected. However, sexual and reproductive rights and the rights of young people are not being recognised by every country. This makes the topic of SRHR and young people a highly debated one at the CPD in New York this week.
Just in front of the entrance to the plenary conference room, large groups of progressive civil society organisations flock to be close to the centre of the action. The first day was one of mixed feelings. Although there were some very strong statements being made on SRHR and youth by UNFPA and progressive countries, including the EU and South Africa, there were also strong voices that oppose everything we stand for.  This CPD seems to be one where ‘youth’ and ‘young people’ are the buzzwords. Mentioning of Comprehensive Sexuality Education and the sexual and reproductive rights of young people causes for a lot of debate, especially among the African Group (spearheaded by a conservative Nigeria).

Simavi and the SRHR Alliances of Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Uganda are pushing their delegations to agree to language on CSE and SRHR for youth. During a side event on Wednesday we will emphasise the need of participation of young people on issues that are concerning them.  Based on experiences from the field, young people and representatives of CSOs will discuss Youth Friendly Services, Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Child Marriage as key topics on which young people need to be meaningfully engaged. Key questions is how not to only meaningfully engage young people in programmes, but also make sure that the post-2015 global commitments take the voices of young Africans into account. As UNFPA  Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin rightly pledged: “Let this generation of young people be the first to grow up with all rights realised!’

Together with Simavi, the Permanent Mission of Ghana to the UN, and the SRHR Alliances of Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Malawi will co-host a side event on Wednesday 15 April at 8 am in the UN Headquarters in New York. The outcome will include concrete next steps to ensure that the voices of young people are taken into account in the international CPD and Post-2015 negotiations and the future implementation of national policies and systems. For more information visit

Lara van Kouterik is Senior Programme Officer SRHR at Simavi. She is attending the 48th CPD with her colleague Nienke Blauw and partners from Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Uganda.


Monday the 13th of April the 48th session of the Commission on Population and Development (CPD) got started.
Waking-up that morning almost felt like waking-up on one’sbirthday: the feeling of excitement and expectation.
Who will join the party and what will be our presents? Are we going to get what we aimed for? 
Like every birthday this start of a week full of discussions around sexual and reproductive health and rights brought some pleasant surprises and some big disappointments.
This is the first part of a blog by Rineke van Dam, Adovacy Officer of RutgersWPF. For the whole blog please follow this link
= RutgersWPF is a member of WO=MEN Dutch Gender Platform=

Monday, April 13, 2015

CSW59 Political Declaration and Working Methods

The official Political Declaration of CSW59 is now public, can be found here.
The draft Resolution on the Methods of Work can be found here.