High-Level Task Force For ICPD Releases: Policy Recommendations for ICPD Beyond 2014: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for All

The High-Level Task Force for ICPD, has circulated the following release on its launch of its position paper  “Policy Recommendations for ICPD Beyond 2014: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for All” in New York on April 25. The HLTF is the only high-level group in the world dedicated to advancing a forward-looking agenda for the ICPD review process, is urging governments and the international community to take much bolder action to meet and build on commitments made at the International Conference on Population Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994. 185 participants, including representatives of 27 governments from Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America, 29 civil society organizations and networks and 11 UN agencies and the Secretariat, joined in the high-level launch co-hosted by the Governments of Finland and Mozambique, and the Ford Foundation.

The Task Force policy recommendations reflect the demands of key constituencies from across regions of the world.  They propose specific steps that must be taken, and strong accountability systems, to ensure that sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender equality and the rights and empowerment of women, adolescents and youth become central components of ICPD Beyond 2014, as well as the post-2015 and Sustainable Development Goals agenda.

“While the membership [of the Task Force] is diverse, we are united in a single mission:  to provide a bold independent voice for the advancement of sexual and reproductive rights and the empowerment of women and young girls,” said Luis Ubiñas, Member of the High-Level Task Force for ICPD and President of The Ford Foundation.  “The most fundamental human right is that of every person to be able to make informed and independent decisions about basic aspects of their lives—their own body, their own sexuality, their own health, when to marry, when to have children—these decisions must be made without any form of discrimination, coercion or violence.”

Tarja Halonen, Source: Wikipedia “We find ourselves in an historic moment at the United Nations,” stated Tarja Halonen, former President of Finland and Co-Chair of the High-Level Task Force for ICPD.  “The international community must forge a forward-looking agenda to ensure human rights, human security, equality and social justice for all.  While we are encouraged by the achievements of ICPD implementation, the challenge is that too many people around the world are still denied their sexual and reproductive health and rights.  These fundamental freedoms and human rights lie at the very core of human dignity.”

 President Halonen presented the four main recommendations of the Task Force for action by governments and the international community:

  1. Respecting, protecting and fulfilling sexual and reproductive rights for all through public education and legal and policy reforms
  2. Achieving universal access to quality, comprehensive and integrated sexual and reproductive health information, education and services
  3. Ensuring universal access to comprehensive sexuality education for all young people, in and out of school
  4. Eliminating violence against women and girls and securing universal access to critical services for all victims/survivors of gender-based violence

Within those four areas, the Task Force has identified specific recommendations on a range of related issues, including, among others: policy and legal reforms for rights protections; ensuring equality under the law and non-discrimination regardless of HIV, disability, migrant, sexual orientation or gender identity  or any other status; community mobilization and education; criminalizing sexual violence; ending unsafe abortion and expanding access to safe abortion; and eliminating early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation within a generation.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia and Task Force Member Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus affirmed that “our Task Force recommendations are indeed crucial. Too much is at stake:  the very survival, health and dignity of women and girls, of communities hit hard by the AIDS epidemic...  These are issues that deserve high priority policy attention, leading to investments commensurate with the challenge faced.”

Responding to these recommendations, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said:  “[The] ICPD remains the most comprehensive acknowledgement of the rights of people that the United Nations has put together in its history. . . .  We are very proud to be custodians of the ICPD agenda, now we’re waiting feverishly to see how this will be advanced. . . .  We know that it is unfinished business. . . .  We’re going to move it ahead and make sure that we not only protect the rights and spaces for women and girls, we advance it.”

 Expanding on the Task Force calls for ensuring the rights of adolescents and youth, Ishita Chaudhry, Task Force Member and Founder of The YP Foundation in India, stated:  “Increasingly, young people, especially young women and girls, are articulating their right to access comprehensive sexuality education so that they can live just and healthy lives. In our lived realities, this is our claim to live a life free of stigma and discrimination, where we are empowered to negotiate our own sexual and reproductive choices and are given the resources to do so. These directly impact our ability to go to school, to access employment and to enter into relationships by choice that are free from violence. All this contributes strongly to breaking the cycle of poverty that many women and girls are in.“
“Maternal mortality is a cruel manifestation of how poverty and entrenched gender discrimination and inequalities put the lives of women and girls at risk. While we are here talking about this issue, 800 women and girls will have died by the time the day is over,” stated Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, Member of the High-Level Task Force for the ICPD. “The overwhelming majority of these needless deaths are entirely avoidable. We can end maternal mortality and morbidity as a public health problem. . . .  However, this can only be achieved by placing the human rights of women and girls at the centre.”

 H. E. Joy Phumaphi, Former Minister of Health of Botswana addressed the audience as a Member of the Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health on behalf of its Chair, H.E. Mary Robinson.  She stated:  “I would challenge any politician to tell me how they can address social justice and equity in their societies without addressing sexual and reproductive health and rights. It is poor women and adolescent girls and poor families who suffer the damaging consequences and whose livelihoods are plunged deeper and deeper into poverty because of our failure to respond to these needs.”

Citing how costs of unsafe abortion run close to one billion dollars annually in sub-Saharan Africa from lost income, disability and death, and that households pay $200 million a year out of their own pockets to treat unsafe abortion complications, Phumaphi said:  “This is not a grant from the World Bank or USAID but is paid by a poor girl or a poor woman in the community who hardly has enough to feed her children. . . .  Meanwhile, safe abortion is one of the safest medical procedures, saving both lives and money. Yet, we don’t want to speak about it, we don’t want to talk, we don’t want to mention it, we don’t want to advocate for it . . . leaving women with little recourse but to resort to cheap, backstreet unsafe abortions.”

Joaquim Chissano, Source: WikipediaH. E. Joaquim Alberto Chissano, former President of Mozambique and Co-Chair of the High-Level Task Force for ICPD affirmed that  “Fulfilling sexual and reproductive health and rights, and empowering people in this area, is not only a human rights and ethical imperative; it offers solutions to resolving many of today’s global problems. . . .  Investments in sexual and reproductive health are proven, cost-effective, measures. . . .  What the High-Level Task Force for ICPD proposes is not only the right thing to do; it is common sense.  No country can afford to forgo opportunities to make the empowerment of women and young people, and sexual and reproductive health and rights, a reality in the 21st century. We urge countries to build and capitalize on what has already been accomplished through the ICPD Programme of Action, to reinvigorate those commitments and to translate them into concrete benchmarks for the global development agenda. . . . A vision of inclusive development that is genuinely rooted in equality, dignity and social justice demands nothing less.”

Following the interventions from panelists on the agenda, a series of speakers from the floor, representing key stakeholders of the ICPD Programme of Action, expressed their support for the Task Force recommendations. The moderator, Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, delivered a special message on behalf of Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, stating that addressing Task Force recommendations “[are] not only a matter of goodwill but a matter of law. First, gender-based violence, including violence against women, as well as violence against persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, continues to be one of the most serious human rights violations manifested in every country of the world. Second, human rights law obliges States to make sexual and reproductive health services accessible, affordable, acceptable, of good quality and available to all without discrimination. However, we see gross inequalities in how different marginalized populations enjoy their sexual and reproductive rights.”

Welcoming and commending the Task Force’s policy recommendations, H.E. Robert Guba Aisi, Ambassador to the United Nations of Papua New Guinea, affirmed that “We also share in the Task Force’s conviction that the empowerment of young people and women, gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights must be incorporated in the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals,” adding that “ending violence against women and girls is a critical missing MDG” which should also be included in the new global development framework."

Similarly, H.E. José Luis Cancela, Ambassador to the United Nations of Uruguay, made clear that "the availability, accessibility, affordability and quality of comprehensive and integrated sexual and reproductive health information, education and services is essential to achieve sustainable development, ensure more equal societies and to eradicate poverty."

“At this historical point, we do need a dream, we do need a vision, we do need a very clear strategy for population and development for the next 20 years,” stated Hu Hongtao, Director-General of the International Cooperation Department, National Health and Family Planning Commission of China. “It is for the well-being of millions and millions of people, especially the poor people in developing countries and also for sustainable development of all nations of the world.”

Recognizing the range of participants in the audience, H.E. Stephanie Lee, Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations of New Zealand, affirmed that, “Such rights are not defined by a single perspective but by their very universality. We very much welcome the Task Force recommendations …in not only defending the rights and freedoms, but also in seeking to advance them. . . .  As we’re working on building the post-2015 development agenda, the Task Force is rightly underlining the way in which fulfillment of these rights contributes to community development. . . .  We welcome the Task Force’s affirmation that sexual and reproductive rights are universal, that our policies must reflect this universality without discrimination and that we must prioritize the removal of laws that could curtail, or criminalize the exercising of such rights.”

The World Health Organization, UNDP and UNAIDS also delivered messages welcoming the Task Force recommendations. The Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS, Jan Beagle, noted that “women and girls are at the center of the response—HIV remains the leading cause of death of women of reproductive age,” and that “vulnerable groups, sex workers, migrants, the poor—poor in all countries including middle and high- income countries—women-headed households, these are the people who are the face of HIV, and these are the people for whom sexual and reproductive rights are key.” She concluded by reiterating President Halonen’s call to action: “We know what to do, let’s just do it."

UNDP’s Director of the HIV, Health and Development Group, Mandeep Dhaliwal, in welcoming “the bold recommendations of this High-Level Task Force as a major step forward in the contribution they can make to advancing human rights and sustainable development for all,” asserted that “The silver bullet for ending extreme poverty is equal rights for women and girls. . . .  The Task Force has shown great courage and foresight, especially in the current political environment, in addressing front and center the most challenging issues confronting women’s health, human rights and development.” She added: “For women and girls, archaic and ill-conceived laws, legally condoned customs and dysfunctional law enforcement continue to produce profound gender inequality and disempowerment. . . .  As the chorus of voices demanding equal rights and dignity for women and girls grows louder, together we must act, we must do something differently than what we’ve been doing for the last 19 years to ensure that the post-2015 world is one in which gender equality and women’s empowerment are central . . . and become the drivers and engines for sustainable human development.”

United Nations Ambassadors and Deputy Representatives of the governments of Mozambique, Switzerland, Thailandand the United Kingdom also took the floor, welcoming the Task Force positions with expressions of supportive collaboration with the Task Force in taking them forward, as did civil society leaders from the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights and the International Women’s Health Coalition.

Members of the audience were invited at the end of event to contact the Task Force via email (, Twitter (@icpdtaskforce), or its Facebook page with reactions or comments about its policy recommendations.

The Task Force recommendations are designed to guide government delegates and support advocates as they prepare their official positions for upcoming regional and global UN deliberations on the ICPD Beyond 2014 agenda.  

The High-Level Task Force for ICPD position paper is available in full-length and summary versions in different languages. More information and speeches from the event are also available on the Task Force’s website.

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