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People first: Nairobi Summit ends with clear path forward

Stevie Emilia

The Jakarta Post

Nairobi, Kenya  /  Fri, November 15, 2019  /  12:49 pm
People first: Nairobi Summit ends with clear path forward

Aye aye: Delegates cheer and dance during the closing ceremony of the Nairobi Summit on the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25) on Thursday in Nairobi, Kenya. (AFP/Albert Gonzalez Farran /UNFPA )

The voices of young people, who demanded action – not just talk – while telling their personal stories, captured the attention of delegates packing the closing ceremony of the Nairobi Summit on the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25), which closed its doors on Thursday.

Performances by Nigerian Afropop singer Yemi Alade and Moroccan singer Ahmed Chawki further brightened up the atmosphere, sending nearly all delegates, including United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Natalia Kanem, dancing and singing along to the tune of  Chawki’s “Time Of Our Lives”.

Time of our lives: Morocco singer Ahmed Chawki performs at the closing ceremony of the Nairobi Summit on the International Conference on Population.Time of our lives: Morocco singer Ahmed Chawki performs at the closing ceremony of the Nairobi Summit on the International Conference on Population. (AFP/Albert Gonzalez Farran /UNFPA )

The summit itself was not without controversy. Anti-abortion and pro-family activists held placards during a prayer rally organized by CitizenGo to protest against an abortion agenda.

The United States, in its Nairobi commitment, reportedly said it would not support abortion,  funding only programs that provided skills, opportunities and empowerment of women, not those which compromised the dignity and inherent value of every human life – born and unborn.

The summit was held to push for action promised in Cairo, which marked a turning point for the future of women and girls.

Kanem said the Nairobi Summit represented a renewed, re-energized vision and community working together to act and deliver. “Together, we will make the next 10 years a decade of action and results for women and girls, keeping their rights and choices at the center of everything we do,” she said.

The summit – which was co-convened by the governments of Kenya and Denmark with UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency – raised the voices of marginalized communities, youth and grassroots advocates, who were able to directly engage heads of state and policymakers about how to realize the rights and health of all people. 

Director-general of the Kenya National Council for Population and Development, Josephine Kibaru-Mbae, found the Summit to be a massive success.

"But it was only a start. We leave the Nairobi Summit with a clear road map of actions we must all take to advance the ICPD agenda and transform the world for women and girls."

Over 1,250 bold commitments, including financially and politically, were made to end all maternal deaths, unmet need for family planning, gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls by 2030.

Let’s say it: Young people perform a dance at the Kenyatta International Convention Center at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Nairobi, Kenya.Let’s say it: Young people perform a dance at the Kenyatta International Convention Center at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Nairobi, Kenya. (AFP/Albert Gonzalez Farran /UNFPA )

The pledges were made by governments, civil society, youth groups, faith-based organizations, academia and more.

“There will be no ICPD50. Women and girls around the world have waited long enough to have rights and choices,” said Ambassador Ib Petersen, Denmark’s Special Envoy for ICPD25.

“Looking toward 2030, we now enter a decade of delivery during which we will walk the talk and hold all of us to account for the commitments we made in Nairobi.”

Over 9,500 delegates from more than 170 countries, including Indonesia, took part in this inclusive conference, uniting behind the Nairobi Statement, which establishes a shared agenda to complete the ICPD Program of Action. 

Indonesian delegation member Siswanto Agus Wilopo, who is a professor at Gadjah Mada University (UGM)’s Center for Reproductive Health, said the summit was a success as seen from the huge number of its participants, including world leaders, high ranking officials, experts, activists, youths and religious leaders.

“Although the summit’s statement is not legally binding, the presence of the participants from all levels of society, including young people, opens up a new perspective on the changes that have happened since 1994,” he said.

“It’s the new perspective and terminology being proposed outside the original ICPD’s action plan that triggered pros and cons [during the Nairobi Summit], especially on sexual and reproductive health rights.”

He said heated debate took place when discussing the idea of expanding the summit’s action plan goals known as the “three zeroes”: zero maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning, and zero gender-based violence and harmful practices within the next decade – and how to achieve them

For instance, he said the idea to reach zero maternal death through legalizing safe abortion was rejected by several Muslim nations although it is an individual right. Such opposition also arose on the idea to provide contraceptives to unmarried couples.

“Maybe one of the weaknesses of this summit is a lack of substantial discussion on the use of terms that are not found in the original action plan [in Cairo],” said Siswanto, who was also present in Cairo. “Not enough time to understand what’s being agreed on, and not, is a failure in drafting the Nairobi Statement.”

The action plan clearly stated its implementation is the prerogative of each sovereign state. Only when abortion is not against the law, it should be safe and accessible.

Siswanto said the lack of discussions may cause confusion in implementing the commitment. “Although almost all nations [present at the summit] support the three zeroes, not all of them agree on how to reach them,” he said.

The Indonesian government itself announced Wednesday its strong, non-negotiable commitment to live up to the promise made in Cairo, but the country’s head of delegation, National Population and Family Planning Board (BKKBN) chairman Hasto Wardoyo, said it was in no position to endorse the Nairobi Statement due to the country’s national regulations and policies.

Head of the Women's Health Foundation, Zumrotin K. Susilo, who is also delegation member, said some countries, like Kenya, had already made a clear and measured commitment.

The Kenyan government has committed to strengthening policies and legislation to reduce maternal deaths, the total elimination of female genital mutilation (FGM) and accelerate equal participation of women in the country’s politics and economy,

“Several countries will fight to bring down gender-based violence and improve the human resources quality of our young people, while others offer a financial commitment to reduce the maternal mortality rate, child marriage and gender-based violence,” she said.

Data show that over 800 women die each day while pregnant or during childbirth; while some 4 million women are at risk of female genital mutilation each year. Some 33,000 girls are forced into child marriage every day while one in five women or girls will be assaulted by their partner each year.

Zumrotin said that in several cases, like child marriage, Indonesia is already on track. “At this summit, Indonesia could learn from other countries, such as on their steps to lower maternal mortality,” she said.

On their return from the summit, she said delegation members should immediately identify existing problems and set priorities to be dealt with. “In the process of determining priorities, the government should involve all stakeholders, including experts, nongovernmental groups, young people and the private sector,” she said. “The key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals is involving all stakeholders.”

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