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United Nations: Commission Issues Declaration on Gender Equality and Reproductive Health

(Sept. 23, 2013) The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), in cooperation with the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), hosted the Sixth Asian and Pacific Population Conference in Bangkok from September 16-20, 2013. Ministers and senior officials from 47 countries, as well as civil society representatives, almost 500 delegates in all, participated in the meeting. (Sixth APPC: Asian and Pacific Countries Adopt Ground Breaking Agenda on Population, Development and Rights, ESCAP website (Sept. 23, 2013).)

On September 20, the regional conference “issued a strong reaffirmation that gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights are indispensable to sustainable development, and must be a key part of the post-2015 development framework,” in the form of the adoption of the Asian and Pacific Ministerial Declaration on Population and Development. (Id.) The document addresses 11 areas for priority actions, in the following order:

· poverty eradication and employment;

· health;

· sexual and reproductive health, services, and rights (including access to safe abortion under lawfully permitted criteria, post-abortion care, and safe delivery services;

· education;

· gender equality and women’s empowerment;

· adolescents and young people;

· ageing;

· international migration;

· urbanization and internal migration;

· population and sustainable development; and

· data and statistics. (Draft Asian and Pacific Declaration on Population and Development, E/ESCAP/APPC(6)/WP.1/Rev.3 (Sept. 18, 2013), ESCAP website.)

According to Noeleen Heyzer, U.N. Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP, the document addresses “one of the most important parts of our unfinished business” in affirming “the importance of non-discrimination, of ending violence against women and girls, and of universal sexual and reproductive health, services, and rights.” It also affirms, she stated, “the importance of national laws and policies which respect and protect the reproductive rights of every person, and enable all people to exercise them without discrimination on any grounds.” (Sixth APPC: Asian and Pacific Countries Adopt Ground Breaking Agenda on Population, Development and Rights, supra.)

The Declaration also affirms some key principles of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action, insofar as it stresses the responsibility of states “to protect human rights for all without distinction and to address the root causes of poverty.” (Id.; International Conference on Population and Development – ICPD – Programme of Action (1995), UNFPA website.)

In regard to the rights and needs of the young, the Declaration calls for comprehensive sex education, access to contraception, and access to education and employment opportunities. On the issue of aging, the document urges that health and social protection systems be strengthened to address the elderly’s vulnerability to poverty and social isolation, particularly because the Asia and Pacific region has “the most rapid pace of population ageing worldwide.” (Sixth APPC: Asian and Pacific Countries Adopt Ground Breaking Agenda on Population, Development and Rights, supra.)

The Declaration will also serve as the Asia and Pacific region’s input for the 2014 review by the U.N. General Assembly of the ICPD. (Id.) That review in turn will most likely be used in global consultations to build on the targets to fight poverty delineated in the U.N.? Millennium Development Goals (MDG) as part of the MDG’s post-2015 agenda. (Asian, Pacific Countries Adopt Agreement on Reproductive Health at UN Conference, UN NEWS CENTRE (Sept. 21, 2013) ; Millenium Development Goals and Beyond 2015 website (last visited Sept. 23, 2013).)