No deal on women health rights as summit closes

The Director of People and Peace European High Commission Henriette Geige (left), Honourable Depute Madagascar Marco Tsaradia (C) and Minister of Foreign Affairs the Portuguese Republic Augusto Santos Silva during the session themed " Our bodies our lives our word 1.8 billion reasons why," at the ICPD25 conference at KICC Nairobi on Wednesday, November 13, 2019. [David Gichuru, Standard]

The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25) conference closes today amid questions on whether it will produce a high-level declaration.

By last night, major global players were still holding on to their hardened positions especially on abortion, sexual rights and same-sex relationships.

The US, the biggest funder of reproductive health globally, in its Nairobi commitment is categorical that it would not support abortion.

“The United States funds international programmes that provide skills, opportunities and empowerment for women, without compromising the dignity and inherent value of every human life – born and unborn,” says the US commitment to the Nairobi Summit.

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The Nairobi conference is a follow-up of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) attended by 179 largely harmonious countries in Cairo, Egypt.

Twenty-five years later, that harmony is not evident in Nairobi.

Gag rule

This is partly blamed on the US Government, which in 2017 reinforced the ‘gag rule’ that has seen a reduction of funding to sexual and reproductive health services globally.

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Publicly supporting the US position are 19 countries: Bahrain, Belarus, Brazil, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Guatemala, Haiti, and Hungary. Others are Iraq, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Poland, Republic of the Congo, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

In a statement presented earlier to the UN, the group said it does not support references to ambiguous terms and expressions such as sexual and reproductive health and rights in UN documents.

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“This is because such language can undermine the critical role of the family and promote practices such as abortion.”

The grouping says there is no international right to an abortion and such terms should not be used to promote pro-abortion policies and measures.

“Further, we only support sex education that appreciates the protective role of the family in this education and does not condone harmful sexual risks for young people,” said the group.

Yesterday, in an opinion piece in this paper, US Ambassador to Kenya Kyle McCarter cautioned against use of the Nairobi forum by pro-abortion groups as a vehicle to try and further their agenda. 

“Unfortunately, these groups are attempting to re-write ICPD’s Programme of Action which was agreed to by 179 governments in 1994 with an alternative set of commitments that go beyond what was agreed to by member states in the original ICPD,” he wrote.

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Reaction to the US position has been swift and aggressive. A coalition of 58 countries mainly involving the rich nations of Europe, including Denmark -- the co-conveners of the Nairobi meeting -- has strongly defended universal sexual rights.

Included in this group are economic heavyweights like France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Norway, and South Africa.

The other significant group offended by the Nairobi Summit, and which has a strong social influence on large populations particularly in Kenya, is the Church.

Since last month, the Holy See had made it known to the Kenyan Government that it would not be participating in the Nairobi Summit.

“The Holy See cannot support the “Nairobi Statement on ICPD25: Accelerating the Promise,” read a statement.

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The Vatican said it was mainly opposed to the inclusion of issues that have not been agreed on globally in the Nairobi meeting. Specifically, the Vatican said it was not comfortable with the so-called “sexual and reproductive health rights” and “comprehensive sexuality education”.

Last Friday, Catholic bishops in Kenya said there were more pressing issues affecting women than those being discussed at the summit.

“We do not believe that these (ICPD25 themes) are the issues that truly concern the development of women and humanity at large,” said Archbishop Philip Anyolo.

He said any meaningful summit will be expected to focus on programmes that target actions that will uplift women and children living in extreme poverty and migration, among others.

The controversial statements appear in the summits’ guiding pledge, Nairobi Statement on ICPD25: Accelerating the Promise.

The pledge commits members “to integrate comprehensive package of sexual and reproductive health interventions, including access to safe abortion”. Some delegates say they do not have high expectations on the achievement of the Nairobi Summit. Dmitry Chumokov of Russia said the Nairobi summit was a platform for sharing experiences but won’t provide a binding outcome document.

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ICPD25Health rightsNairobi Summit