As the world comes together in Nairobi next month to mark the 25th anniversary of the ground-breaking International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which first took place in Cairo in 1994, it is important to reflect on the deliberations and the commitments that were made 25 years ago.
The conference will offer an inclusive platform, bringing together governments, civil society, private sector organisations, women’s groups and youth networks to discuss and agree on actions to accelerate the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action, which is critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, by 2030.
Investing in the power and potential of women and girls and their sexual and reproductive health and rights is the only way to attain the Sustainable Development Goals.
However, most of the people in reproductive age worldwide and especially in Africa will have inadequate access to sexual and reproductive health services over the course of their lives.
To achieve the SDGs, particularly universal health coverage, we must ensure girls, women and their communities have access to quality sexual and reproductive health services and rights, and they must hold their social, community and health systems accountable for meeting their needs.
Kenya, for instance, has made significant progress on sexual and reproductive health and rights, especially maternal and child mortality since the ICPD first took place in Cairo.
Whereas only about one in four married women used modern contraception 25 years ago, two in four do today.
This has resulted in a favourable reduction in the fertility rate from six children per woman 25 years ago to 4.7 today.
Today, many more women are able to make their choices and play a role in planning their families.
But even with these gains, the country and the continent continue with the struggle to curb adolescent pregnancies which have remained a persistent problem in Africa at about 19 per cent of all adolescents with East Africa leading at 22 per cent.
This trend robs many young people a chance to develop their full potential as it often results in school dropout, early marriages and sometimes death from complications of early pregnancy or unsafe abortions.
Amref Health Africa has been at the forefront of ensuring and lobbying for sexual and reproductive health and rights, especially for the youth and women across Africa.
Many commitments have been made by governments across the African continent in a number of international and regional declarations, conventions and agendas.
A good example is in February of this year where Amref Health Africa together with other partners under the Health Systems Advocacy programme–Uganda and ACHEST convened an inter-generational dialogue that brought together different stakeholders including young people, youth leaders, religious leaders, local government, Ministry of Health officials and like-minded organisations in health advocacy for sexual and reproductive health.
During the dialogue, it was clear in the discussions that the ability to achieve healthy and empowered adolescents and young people hinges on a supportive legal and policy environment which will ensure that every person can exercise their fundamental right to sexual and reproductive health.
This is why the youth should be the key to fulfilling the promise, empowering them at the community level and instilling in them the importance of the rights to sexual and reproductive health for women and benefits of educating girls by eradicating harmful practices like FGM and early child marriages.
Amref Health Africa, in its vision to end FGM by 2030, envisions a continent free of FGM/C, where girls are empowered to continue their education, and become the women of their dreams
Violation of the rights of women and girls through female genital mutilation (FGM), which still happens to millions of girls and women today, is a matter that has to be addressed by all.
In most communities where this happens, the women are denied a right to education and denied a chance to reach their full potential.
All these gaps need to be filled. It’s not just a matter of deliberating and fulfilling the commitments by the stakeholders.
There needs to be an investment in generating disaggregated data to tell us where we are lagging behind to ensure that our response is targeted and credible.
We will only shorten the road to achieving UHC when every woman is able to access information and services that allow her to determine for herself how to take care of her body.
Let’s walk the talk.
Dr Githinji is the AMREF Health Africa CEO and the Co-Chair of UHC2030