The Jakarta Post
Hear me out: A mural created by Maia Bobo in partnership with TackleAfrica, Burkina Faso. (Courtesy of UNFPA/State of World Population 2020)
Just a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic began wreaking havoc, leaders from across the globe, including Indonesia, reaffirmed their commitment to advancing the sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of their people.
The commitments were made during the 25th anniversary of the landmark Program of Action of the International Conference of Population and Development (ICPD) in Nairobi in November 2019.
“I was present at the ICPD 1994 in Cairo to witness 179 member states agree upon the landmark ICPD Program of Action that, for the first time, put individual rights and choices – with special emphasis on sexual reproductive health and rights and choices – at the heart of sustainable development,” said Bjorn Andersson, director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for the Asia-Pacific region during a virtual conference on July 9.
The virtual conference, organized by the steering committee of the 10th Asia Pacific Conference on Sexual Reproductive Health (APCRSRH10), UNFPA and Citizen News Service (CNS), was held to commemorate World Population Day, which fell on July 11.
“On July 11, World Population Day, UNFPA aims to raise awareness about the sexual and reproductive health needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls during the pandemic and how we can safeguard hard-fought gains and ensure that SRHR stays on the local agenda,” said Andersson.
In the early days following the coronavirus outbreak, Andersson said, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed hope the crisis would bring countries together to face, what he called, the biggest global public health, economic and humanitarian challenges since World War II.
“But, after several months [of the pandemic], we are seeing grave challenges to achieve this vision, we are witnessing stigma, discrimination, racism and xenophobia manifested in various ways, often dividing society and countries, hindering effective responses to COVID-19,” Andersson said.
The pandemic also presented significant challenges related to maternal health, family planning and gender-based violence and ensuring the continuity of SRH services in Asia and the Pacific, he noted.
The Asia-Pacific region is home to 4.3 billion people, or 60 percent of the world’s population, and includes three of the four most populous countries – China, India and Indonesia.
In the 25 years since ICPD 1994, the Asia-Pacific region has made significant progress toward ending maternal mortality, meeting needs for family planning and addressing gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls.
Twenty years ago, more than 230,000 maternal deaths were estimated to occur in Asia-Pacific each year. Today, the number has dropped to 79,000.
“But, significant gaps still remain,” Andersson added.
In the region, more than 30 million women a year do not give birth in a health facility. More than 45 million women receive inadequate or no antenatal care. More than 2 million women want to avoid pregnancy but cannot access modern contraception.
That was why, during the Nairobi Summit, around 26 countries from Asia and the Pacific penned a milestone statement comprising 152 commitments toward achieving the ICPD Program of Action.
Fundamental to all commitments made in Nairobi was the pledge to leave no one behind. This requires addressing the specific needs of marginalized groups and those in vulnerable situations, regardless of gender, age, sexuality or disability.
The Jakarta Post, however, reported from Nairobi that while Indonesia expressed a strong commitment to live up to its promise to accelerate the ICPD agenda, the country refused to endorse the new Nairobi statement.
Making the point: Chairman of National Population and Family Planning Board Hasto Wardoyo reads out the country’s statement as head of Indonesia’s delegation to the ICPD25 summit in Nairobi in November last year. (JP/Stevie Emilia)
“While appreciating all efforts of the conveners, we are not in the position to endorse the Nairobi statement due to our national regulations and policies,” explained the head Indonesia’s delegation to the summit, Hasto Wardoyo, chairman of the National Population and Family Planning Board, without offering details.
Hasto insisted that 25 years after ICPD Cairo, Indonesia had achieved a number of targets in the context of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in terms of regulations, policies and strategies on reproductive health, family planning and prevention of gender-based violence.
Hasto was also pleased to state that modern contraceptive use had reached 50 percent, the age specific fertility rate for girls had fallen to 36 per 1,000 women and the percentage of births attended by a skilled health professional had reached 90 percent.
Regarding the country’s stance on the Nairobi statement, a number of population and development experts in Indonesia said that the non-binding statement included provisions on safe abortion as an “essential package” and that, therefore, the Indonesian government would not endorse it.
Siswanto Agus Wilopo, professor and director of Gajah Mada University’s Center for Reproductive Health, said abortion was only legal in Indonesia under certain circumstances, such as cases of rape, incest, or when a woman’s life was at risk.
“Worse, unsafe abortion accounted for an estimated 10 percent of maternal deaths in Indonesia, which has the highest maternal mortality rate [MMR] in the ASEAN region [at 350 deaths per 100,000 live births, as compared to Singapore with only 11 per 100,000 deliveries],” the professor said.
Program of action: The 25th anniversary of the landmarke International Conference of Population and Development (ICPD) was held in Nairobi in November 2019. (JP/Stevie Emilia)
In the current pandemic, Andersson insisted, “We need to hold governments accountable to their commitments to the ICPD Program of Action and the SDGs to build a better post-COVID Asia-Pacific”.
“We need to work together for societal change – so that the lives of women and girls are valued equally with the lives of men and boys. And, we must push back against the growing trends of conservatism that threaten our collective efforts,” he said. (ste)
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