Secretary-General: Big challenges remain to health, rights of women, girls
Following are UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ remarks to the General Assembly meeting marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development, in New York on 16 July 2019:
It is a pleasure to be here with you to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development.
Many of the policies set out in the Cairo Programme of Action, from tackling inequality and environmental degradation, to promoting gender equality and access to sexual and reproductive health, remain fundamental to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, agreed two decades later. This is a testament to the enduring legacy of Cairo.
This Conference consolidated a major shift in thinking around population, away from specific demographic targets, towards a greater emphasis on the rights, equality, dignity and well-being of individuals as they experience the cycle of life.
One of its most important achievements was in making the link between population, human rights, sustained economic growth, and sustainable development, and addressing these issues in a holistic and coherent way.
I commend the work of Member States and civil society representatives on implementing the Cairo Programme of Action.
Many of the issues raised in Cairo have only become more urgent in the past 25 years. Population growth is a sign of human achievement, since it means people are living longer, healthier lives. But it also has contributed to an increase in global production and consumption.
This is one more reason to adjust our production and consumption habits to avert even more serious consequences for lives and livelihoods, especially for the most vulnerable. We must remember that we are still losing the race against climate change.
Elsewhere, countries face the challenge of ageing populations, including the need to promote healthy active ageing and to provide adequate social protection.
Urbanization remains a major demographic trend, with nearly two thirds of us predicted to be living in urban areas by 2050. Sustainable development and climate change will increasingly depend on the successful management of urban growth.
Migration is also an important factor in managing population trends, with potentially positive impacts on countries of origin and destination. The Global Compact for Migration agreed last year reflects many of the priorities and policies set out in Cairo.
The Cairo Conference rightly emphasized that promoting the rights of women and girls is key to ensuring the well-being of individuals, families, and nations. It recognized gender equality as a pre-requisite to inclusive, sustainable development and affirmed sexual and reproductive health as a fundamental human right.
Over the past 25 years, there has been significant progress. Advances in gender equality and the promotion of women’s rights have contributed to reducing poverty and hunger and improving education and health. Child and maternal mortality have been cut by nearly half. However, many women and girls still face enormous challenges to their health, well-being and human rights.
Violence against women and girls affects one in three women worldwide. In parts of the world, and during conflict and emergencies, this figure is even higher. Globally, some 650 million women were married as children, and every day, more than 500 women and girls die during pregnancy and childbirth. We are seeing a global pushback on women’s rights, including reproductive rights and vital health services.
As the Cairo Programme of Action recognizes, women’s rights and access to sexual and reproductive health are an essential response to demographic trends that could undermine our efforts to achieve sustainable, equitable and inclusive development for all.
Young women and men are also central to implementing the Cairo Programme. They are not only beneficiaries, but powerful agents of change, able to make their own choices and demand the action needed to address today’s challenges.
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), the United Nations Population Fund, which has had a major role in implementing the Cairo Programme of Action. Through its leadership and operational work, UNFPA has been instrumental in empowering young people and enabling women and couples to access the sexual
and reproductive health care they need; in preventing gender-based violence; and in tackling female genital mutilation and early marriage.
In November, the Governments of Kenya and Denmark, together with UNFPA, will convene a summit in Nairobi to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Cairo Conference. I encourage Member States to participate and to make firm political and financial commitments to realize the Programme of Action.
Completing the unfinished business of the Cairo Conference will put us on course to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to ensure lives of peace, prosperity and dignity for all.