Our attention is drawn to an article by Bishop David Oginde on October 27, titled “Why religious leaders are jittery about the ICPD,” which makes false statements about the upcoming Nairobi Summit on ICPD25. We wish to set out the true account of the same, while fully acknowledging the columnist’s right to his views. Co-convened by the governments of Kenya and Denmark and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the summit is a follow-up to the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which was held in Cairo, Egypt, some 25 years ago. This clearly spells that ICPD is nothing new to Kenya and the world at large.
The landmark Cairo ICPD in 1994 was a turning point for humanity. For the first time, world leaders defined development in bold, human terms, putting people at the centre. Rights for women and girls were defined as critical for sustainable development and the ICPD Programme of Action, signed by 179 governments, sought to empower women and girls in all spheres of their lives, as a pathway to sustainable development. While a lot has been achieved in implementing the ICPD Programme of Action, the world still has a long way to go. The Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 seeks to mobilise political-will and financial commitments urgently needed to achieve the goals agreed upon in 1994.
Why does this matter? Because critical issues need to be addressed. What can be done to save the lives of the 830 women who will lose their lives today from preventable causes during pregnancy or child birth? How will the world protect the 33,000 girls who will be forced into early marriage today? What will we do to protect the 11,000 girls subjected to female genital mutilation every day? How will we make family planning accessible to 232 million women who want to prevent pregnancy but are not using modern contraception?
In a departure from past forums, the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 has been structured as an inclusive, multi-stakeholder forum to ensure all voices are heard. Besides the heads of states and governments, ministers and parliamentarians, there will be grassroots and civil society organisations, youth, business leaders, faith-based organisations, indigenous people, international financial institutions, people with disabilities and others interested in the pursuit of sexual and reproductive health and rights.
This is not a UN General Assembly-mandated summit and it will not result in a new negotiated global agreement. Nor will anyone be required to sign anything. But the summit does hope to draw attention to the fact that women are dying and being subjected to violence and practices that harm them and negatively impact families, communities and countries.
The 12 commitments referred to in the article is being called the “Nairobi Statement” and is a forward-looking, non-binding set of commitments that reflects the links between women’s and girls’ empowerment, sexual and reproductive health and rights and sustainable development. It points to areas where more progress and funding are needed. While it has been formulated through a lengthy, inclusive, multi-stakeholder consultative process, it is fully voluntary. It is up to each country and each stakeholder to make their own commitments if they so wish. And I hope they will.
Many faith-based institutions support the principles of the ICPD Programme of Action. Representatives of the world’s largest faiths — Hindu, Christian and Muslim — have been invited to speak and participate at the summit. Everyone is welcome to register for the summit, though it’s true that registration does not guarantee acceptance.
The summit will highlight the need for gender equality, youth leadership, political and community leadership, innovation and data, and partnerships to accelerate progress in five thematic areas, namely; universal access to sexual and reproductive health as part of universal health coverage; financing to finish the ICPD Programme of Action; drawing on demographic diversity to drive economic growth and achieve sustainable development; ending gender-based violence and harmful practices and upholding the right to sexual and reproductive healthcare.
Finally, this summit has potential to save lives and positively impact millions of people. This is about removing the social, economic and institutional barriers that stand between women and girls and their rights to healthy, fruitful lives. I hope members of all faiths and from all walks of life can agree on that.
- Dr Josephine Kibaru-Mbae is the Director-General of the National Council on Population and Development, and co-chairs the International Programmes Committee for the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25