99th Plenary Meeting of General Assembly 73rd Session

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16-Jul-2019 02:54:30
Keep ‘promise of Cairo alive’ to further advance women’s empowerment, speakers urge at General Assembly anniversary meeting for landmark population conference at 99th plenary meeting.

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Achieving continuous progress on women’s empowerment hinges on keeping the “promise of Cairo” alive, speakers stressed, as the General Assembly convened a high-level plenary meeting to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the landmark International Conference on Population and Development.

Held in Egypt in 1994, the International Conference on Population and Development produced a historic outcome document — the Programme of Action. Signed by 179 Member States, the action plan called for promoting women’s empowerment through, among other things, reducing inequalities and improving their access to education, decent work and quality reproductive health care.

However, uneven progress persists, said many ministers and high-level Government representatives, pointing out that 200 million women still lacked access to reproductive health services and more than 800 women die every day from preventable causes during pregnancy and childbirth. Highlighting the forthcoming International Conference on Population and Development, known as ICPD+25, to be held in Nairobi in November, many called for redoubled country-level efforts with a view to furthering gains on pledges made in Cairo a quarter a century ago, including ending the practice of child marriages, violence against women and harmful practices.

António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General, recognizing that much remains to be done, said that one of the Programme of Action’s most important achievements is in making the link among population, human rights, sustained economic growth and sustainable development, and addressing these issues in a holistic and coherent way. Completing the unfinished business of the Cairo Conference will put the world on course to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to ensure lives of peace, prosperity and dignity for all. He pointed out that young women and men are central to implementing the Programme of Action, as they are not only beneficiaries, but powerful agents of change, able to make their own choices and demand the action needed to address today’s challenges.

María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, Assembly President, highlighted the Cairo Conference’s visionary outcome and the critical role civil society groups, especially women’s organizations, play in shaping and implementing it. Indeed, the Member State signatories embraced a bold vision that put individual rights and well-being at the heart of sustainable development, she said, summarizing progress made since then — fewer people living in extreme poverty, maternal mortality dropping by 44 per cent, under-five morality being halved and parity in primary education reached in most countries.

“We must continue to be guided by the ICPD’s emphasis on human rights and gender equality,” she said, adding that, despite these gains, more work is needed. I urge you to keep the promise of Cairo in mind, the notion of people-centred development grounded in human rights and dignity is even more important — and urgent — today as it was 25 years ago.”

Banice Mbuki Mburu, a representative of the African Civil Society Organizations Coalition on Population and Development, said she was born 25 years ago in a rural village in Nakuru, Kenya, and has lived through the Programme of Action’s implementation. Introducing her classmate, Nyaguthii, she said many young girls like themselves had no access to comprehensive sex education. Moreover, Nyaguthii was still a child when she was forced into an early, unwanted marriage and lacked access to family planning. “I visit her, but the bitterness in her heart is evident,” she said. “She looks at me and imagines how her life would be if someone would have protected her from the child marriage and exposure to sexual and gender-based violence that she experienced.”

Emphasizing that the Sustainable Development Goals are central to achieving the Programme of Action, she said: “We cannot talk about inclusive and equitable quality education and life‑long learning opportunities for all without comprehensive sexuality education. Without this, our young girls are losing out to teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.” In fact, achieving Sustainable Development Goals 8 and 10 — on promoting decent work and reducing inequality — will be impossible if teenagers become mothers and are destined to carry out unpaid work, she declared, on behalf of Nyaguthii and other young women and girls who yearn to have comprehensive reproductive health care, access to family planning, safe pregnancies and child birth services.

Hala Zayed, Egypt’s Minister for Health, shared her country’s perspective, saying efforts must be redoubled to break the status quo and tackle remaining inequalities — from ending child marriage and female genital mutilation to reducing maternal mortality and teenage pregnancy. Women have played a crucial role in achieving development progress since ancient times, and today, Governments must work with civil society and other partners in this new era of accountability to further advance the goals declared in Cairo.

Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), summed up a common message heard through the meeting: there can be no Sustainable Development Goals without meeting the objectives set out at the International Conference on Population and Development. When adopted, the Programme of Action transformed discussions on sustainable development, boldly asserting that, with development — including access to education, health care and reproductive health and rights — couples will choose the timing and spacing of their families, girls will go to school and progress will be made, removing barriers so women and girls can achieve their potential. Looking forward to realizing the Goals, she said meeting the need for family planning by 2030 would cost $40 billion, or the price of three aircraft carriers. Emphasizing that millions of women and girls are counting on their needs being met, she urged all Member States to continue to fully implement the Programme of Action.

Maria-Francesa Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, recalling gains made, noted that life expectancy in least development countries lagged behind and more efforts are needed to fully implement both the Programme of Action and the 2030 Agenda. To address challenges such as rapid urbanization, ageing populations and migration, she said Governments must alter policies to reflect a changing world.

Similarly, Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, who spoke on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, commended achievements and called on donors and international organizations to address funding gaps in helping nations to implement the Programme of Action, with a view to paving the way for inclusive development for all.

The representative of Armenia, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said Azerbaijan’s delegation promoted domestic narratives during today’s meeting. The suffering of displaced persons should not be politicized, he said, expressing concern for displaced populations and refugees living in occupied areas, including in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The representative of Azerbaijan, responding, said her delegation joined the debate to, among other things, highlight vulnerable groups, including displaced persons and refugees, and the war crimes committed against them.

The representative of Armenia, taking the floor again, regretted to note that Azerbaijan decided to politicize the meeting.

The representative of Azerbaijan said the United Nations determined that Armenia violated the Organization’s Charter in its occupation of her country’s territory.

The representative of the Russian Federation said his counterpart from Ukraine attempted to politicize the meeting by discussing the current situation in Crimea and eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Epsy Campbell Barr, Vice‑President of Costa Rica, and Ali Ahmadov, Deputy Prime Minister of Azerbaijan, delivered statements, as did ministers and high‑level Government representatives of Ireland (on behalf of the Cross-Regional Group), Philippines, Panama, Zambia, Turkey, Guinea, Canada (also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand), Guatemala, Ukraine, Netherlands, Romania, Uruguay, South Africa (on behalf of the African Group), Luxembourg, Peru, Norway, Japan, Jamaica and Israel, as well as the European Union.

The Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 17 July, to continue the meeting.

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