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Let’s place sexual and reproductive health and rights top and centre on the political agenda

By Ambassadors | November 8th 2019

We count down to the Nairobi Summit of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD)   from November 12 to 14 with great excitement. It marks 25 years since the ICPD in Cairo adopted its landmark Programme of Action, centred on the recognition that sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential to achieving sustainable development.

Since 1994, there has been remarkable progress on the Programme of Action when it comes to improved access to reproductive health services, increased longevity and a reduction in maternal and child mortality. Kenya has made important progress and decreased under-five mortality from more than one out of 10 live births in 2000 to less than one out of 20 in 2017.

It is also encouraging to see that while 44 out of 100 births in Kenya were attended by skilled health staff in 2010, it was 62 out of 100 in 2017. The promise by President Uhuru Kenyatta to end female genital mutilation in Kenya by 2022 is a boost that brings Kenya into the lead when it comes to women’s rights.

But there is much unfinished business. In modern-day Kenya, even if it is illegal, a girl of just 14 years or younger may be forced to leave school to get married and have children while she is, in fact, still a child herself.

Basic right

In many communities, child marriage is a common practice often accompanied by female genital mutilation as a passage from girlhood to womanhood. It is tragic that the same girl cannot get access to much needed basic sexuality education, let alone family planning means.Too often, women and girls are still denied their basic right to decide if, with whom, when and how many children they want.

For the Nordic countries – Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden - the principle of rights is key. Everyone should be able to make their own decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives and have the means to do so. Citizens are not passive receivers of services or beneficiaries of programmes but active rights-holders, who should be empowered to claim their rights.

Pregnancy and childbirth continue to be leading causes of death among young girls, globally and in Kenya. Two weeks ago, during our joint trip to three different Kenyan counties, we visited Isiolo County Referral Hospital maternity ward.

It was evident that the governor, doctors and nurses made great efforts to improve primary health care and maternal health in the county. Yet, according to local statistics, a mother dies in almost one out of 100 deliveries in Isiolo. Rampant teenage pregnancies and female genital mutilation contribute to the high maternal mortality.

This is exactly why Kenya and Denmark, together with UNFPA, co-convene the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25: 'Accelerating the Promise' of zero unmet need for family planning; zero preventable maternal deaths; and zero gender-based violence and other harmful cultural practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation.

Finland, Norway and Sweden have joined forces with the co-conveners of the Nairobi Summit and have provided financial support to the organisation of this important and timely event.

We must redouble our efforts to reach those who are yet to benefit from the promise of ICPD – we will leave no gaps and leave no one behind. The Nordic countries strongly believe that ensuring equal opportunities and rights for women, men, boys and girls is crucial for achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Forging strong coalitions and partnerships across countries and continents, state and non-state actors, age and gender, public and private sectors will be essential to accelerate the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action. Engaging young people and meeting their needs is vital. Their rights and choices must be ensured to unleash their full potential.

The Nordic countries are firmly committed to women’s empowerment globally; improving sexual and reproductive health and rights; as well as fighting sexual and gender-based violence and harmful cultural practices.

Enormous pressure

Acknowledging the importance of women’s and girls’ rights, at a time when these rights are under enormous pressure globally, the Nordic countries have chosen, as a clear sign of its strong political commitment to the ICPD agenda, to continue our strong support for UNFPA’s work to help countries build stronger reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health systems and strengthen family planning.

We are confident that many other nations will use the Nairobi summit as an opportunity to make solid commitments to promote women empowerment and gender equality and non-discrimination, defend fundamental sexual and reproductive health and rights, and ensure that all stakeholders remain committed to accelerating the promise of the Cairo Programme of Action.

Written by Mette Knudsen, ambassador of Denmark; Erik Lundberg, ambassador of Finland; Elin Berghite Rognlie, ambassador of Norway; and Anna Jardfelt, ambassador of Sweden

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