President Kenyatta’s speech at the ICPD25 in Nairobi

President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Today thousands have gathered here in Nairobi from over over 100 countries, dozens of international organizations, over 200 civil society groups, and many leaders from the private sector.

I really do believe the reason so many of us have convened in Nairobi is because we recognize that advancing people’s rights, in particular, women’s rights, their choices and their well-being, is the path to prosperous and resilient societies. Indeed, it has often been said, ‘Women are the backbone of the family and the bedrock of a nation’.

Strength of a woman

And because our women are the gatekeepers to family health, they exert such a powerful influence on intergenerational outcomes for their children, empowering women essentially empowers all our families, empowers our societies, empowers our nations and it empowers the world.

This was on of the essence of the first International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), that was held in Cairo in 1994. The Conference highlighted the linkages between population, poverty reduction and sustainable development.

It emphasized the value of investing in women and girls, both, as an end in itself, but also as a key to improving the quality of life for everyone. Targets were set to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development, increase access to education, achieve sexual and reproductive health, reduce infant and child mortality rates,reduce the maternal mortality rate and also eliminate harmful gender practices.

We are here today to once again rededicate ourselves to the Commitments made in Cairo;to celebrate progress made in the last 25 years; and to make a new commitment to complete the unfinished agenda. 

As we do so, let us bear in mind the fact that the most important participants in this Summit are actually not in this Conference.  You may be wondering who I am referring to.

I am referring to the 1-in-5 women from all corners of the world that this year alone, will experience gender-based violence, most likely from someone who is close to them.  The 800 women and girls who die every day during pregnancy or childbirth; and the 4 million girls who, every year, have to endure the painful and traumatic effects of Female Genital Mutilation.

The more than 33,000 girls who are married off every day before the age of 18; and the millions of unemployed youth with limited hope for their future. Let us deliberate over the next three days, and let our deliberations be guided by the needs, the aspirations, and the unrealised potential of those individuals who are not here.

There is no doubt that, since the landmark agreement made in Cairo in 1994, there has been significant, though uneven, progress in many key areas. 

Today, nearly one billion fewer people are living in extreme poverty than in 1990 and life expectancy at birth has increased by about seven years.  Primary school education is accessible to most children in the world and the global maternal mortality rate has fallen by about 45 per cent.

Fertility rates have also declined in most countries, meaning that couples have better control over family size. There has been a steady, though slow, increase in the number of women in leadership and decision making positions in all sectors of society.

Kenya joins other nations in celebrating the progress made since Cairo. We have achieved universal access to free primary and secondary education.  Indeed, this year we achieved 100 per cent transition from primary to secondary education.  

Further, we have achieved gender parity in both primary and secondary schools. On health, I am happy to say that we have dramatically reduced child and infant mortalityand maternity services and health services for children below one year are free in all Government health institutions.

Reduction in maternal mortality has been steady but slower, from 698 in 1994 to 362 per 100,000 live births today while the contraceptive prevalence rate has doubled.

Our world has changed a lot since 1994 in the field of population and development.  Inequalities have increased within and across countries and there is greater demographic diversity. Some countries in the world are facing rapid population ageing; while others prepare for the largest cohort of young people the world has ever seen.

Mortal threats

The world faces increased health threats including threats from reproductive cancers such as breast, cervical and prostate cancer. And there are also growing environmental pressures including the urgent threat of climate change.

This has made the Cairo commitments more urgent and more complex. To complete the unfinished agenda therefore arequires us to develop new partnerships, mobilize political support, increase the level of international and domestic financing; and accelerate implementation of innovative and supportive interventions. 

Fortunately, there is a greater international commitment and cooperation to address these issues.  The Sustainable Development Goals have provided a comprehensive international platform to systematically advance the Cairo Agenda.  We also have more scientific and research evidence on what works and better technologies, to guide and support policy.

What then should we commit to as we go forward? I believe the packaging of priority actions will differ from country to country, depending on their development priorities. However, at a minimum, we should all commit to:

- Increase access to secondary and tertiary education for boys and girls.  This is the currency of the 21st century and yet secondary education remains low in some parts of the world while enrolment in tertiary education is less than 20 per cent in many lower-middle income countries,

- Accelerate the reduction in maternal deaths.  Progress has been much slower than projected in 1994. The death of a mother during pregnancy or while giving birth, significantly reduces the chances of her children to survive and thrive. And yet, as we are demonstrating through Kenya’s First Lady’s “Beyond Zero” programme, most maternal deaths can be prevented with proper antenatal care, skilled delivery at birth and access to emergency obstetric care.

Eliminate FGM

- Eliminate Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which remains one of the most serious violations of human rights of women and girls. I would like to restate my personal commitment and that of the Government of Kenya to providing the leadership necessary to ensure that this practice ends within this generation. In April this year we signed a landmark declaration between the governments of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia and Ethiopia to address cross border FGM practice.  And last week, we signed an agreement with religious and cultural elders to eliminate FGM by 2022.

- Eliminate violence against women and girls.  A woman has a 1-in-3 chance of experiencing physical or sexual violence in her lifetime. This is a major gap in our development record as a global community. Since 1994 Kenya has enacted laws that focus on the eradication of Gender-Based Violence and harmful practices, which include the Prevention against Domestic Violence Act 2015.

- I believe we can all commit to eliminate Child Marriages. The percentage of young women between 20 and 24 years of age who were married before their 18th birthday has declined from 34 per cent in 1994 to 25 per cent in 2019, but the absolute number of girls under 18 who are at risk of child marriage, is estimated at 10.3 million in 2019.  In Kenya 23 per cent of girls are married before their 18thbirthday. Early marriage denies our girls a chance to achieve their full potential in education and limits their socioeconomic contributions.

- I also believe that we can commit to accelerate women’s equal participation and equitable representation at all levels of the political, public and corporate sphere.  Global analyses suggest that advances in women’s equality in the workplace would add an additional $1.2 trillion to global growth by 2025.

- Strengthen Partnerships:  The successes we celebrate today have been achieved through efforts and coalitions by governments, development partners, civil society organisations, private sector leaders, religious communities, women and youth organizations.  We need to sustain and expand these partnerships.

We need to accelerate the promise of Cairo in order to build sustainable, vibrant and inclusive societies.  But if we fail to deliver on the Cairo promise, we risk consigning our children to a less secure future than we inherited.