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At the Nairobi Summit, Spotlighting the Reproductive Rights of Women and Girls


At the Nairobi summit marking the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population Development, a session focusing on indigenous women and girls featured Tarcila Rivera Zea Chirapaq of Chirapaq, a nonprofit group in Lima, Peru.

NAIROBI, Kenya — More than 6,000 delegates in the population development sector are gathering in the Kenyan capital here this week to renew the promise made to girls and women 25 years ago in Cairo.

In firm voices, young girls from African countries called on delegates to ensure that young people have access to sexual reproductive health rights, justice and equality.

“I want to be educated about sexual and reproductive rights,” said one girl to applause in the packed conference room at the Kenyatta International Convention Center.

A call to action

In the conference, called the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, the girls aim to jolt the delegates into action, based on the commitment that was made in Cairo in 1994: to create equality for all by placing women at the center of global development strategies.

A quarter century later, and in commemorating the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25), delegates from 179 countries are renewing the Cairo Promise in light of the fact that the 1994 vision is far from a reality. The Nairobi Summit is doubling efforts in the following key areas:

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  • Universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights as a part of universal health coverage.
  • Financing required to complete the ICPD program of action and to sustain the gains that have been made.
  • Drawing on demographic diversity to drive economic growth and achieve sustainable development.
  • Ending gender-based violence and other harmful practices.
  • Upholding the right to sexual and reproductive healthcare even in humanitarian and fragile contexts.

Some progress, yet. . . . 

The United Nations Population Fund’s executive director, Natalia Kanem, told delegates that despite the long journey ahead, progress has been made in the last 25 years.

“Maternal mortality is down 44 percent worldwide,” said Kanem, adding, “This means four million women who would have otherwise died while pregnant, or at childbirth, are alive today.”

While she noted that there was good reason to celebrate, she noted that “good progress is not good enough,” insisting that the promises made to girls, women and everyone should be kept.

In illustrating the challenges, she said that within the time that she was standing at the podium, at least 46 underage girls had been forced into marriage and a countless number of girls had been sexually abused, hurt and traumatized.

“The victims and survivors are most likely to be shamed and blamed than the perpetrators who violated them,” Kanem said.

She praised governments, civil society organizations, United Nations agencies, the private sector and youths for bringing new ideas and resources to make rights and choices a reality.

“To the youth, you’re inspiring in pushing us to go further — thank you,” she said.

Ending female genital mutilation

Kenyan President Uluru Kenyatta also called for actions to end all practices, policies and laws that disadvantage women.

He reminded the delegates that there were missing participants from the Nairobi Summit. (The Holy See, for one, declined to come to the conference, saying its focus on reproductive rights was “divisive.”) In his statement, Kenyatta was referring to all women who in this year alone, would experience gender-based violence inflicted most likely by someone close to them. He was also referring to the 800 women and girls who die every day during pregnancy or childbirth, the four million girls who are forced to undergo female genital mutilation, or FGM, the approximately 33,000 girls who are married every day before age 18 and the millions of unemployed youths with limited hope for a better future.

Kenyatta urged delegates to let their deliberations “be guided by the needs, the aspirations and the unrealised potential of those individuals who are not present here.”

He noted that significant progress in key areas, though uneven, has been made since Cairo Promise was first made. Kenyatta said that today, nearly one billion fewer people live in extreme poverty, compared with the numbers in 1990; life expectancy has increased by seven years; universal access to primary education has gone up; and access to birth control has also increased, leading to a reduced global fertility rate.

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“We’ve also seen a steady, though slow increase, in the number of women in leadership and decision-making positions in all sectors of society,” Kenyatta said.

In renewing the promise, Kenyatta said the packaging of priorities will differ from country to country, depending on their development needs, urging nations to at least commit to increasing secondary and tertiary education for both boys and girls. He also implored the nations to strive to reduce maternal deaths and to eliminate incidents of FGM.

This article was adapted from one published in Inter Press Service.


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Mantoe Phakathi is a reporter with Inter Press Service.

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At the Nairobi Summit, Spotlighting the Reproductive Rights of Women and Girls
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