This week is the 42nd session
of the Commission on Population and Development (CPD) at the United
Nations headquarters in New York. It is taking place fifteen years
into the Programme of Action (PoA), adopted at the 1994 International
Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, and government
officials, representatives from international organizations, advocates,
and program implementers are taking stock of our progress. The
theme for the CPD this year is "The contribution of the Programme
of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development
to the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium
The CPD is an annual meeting,
which historically has a more technical emphasis rather than political
one, unlike, for example the Commission on the Status of Women.
However, because it is the 15 year anniversary of the adoption of the
PoA, the meeting has a mixed tone, focusing both on measuring specific
outcomes and expressing political will. Discussion topics include
population economic development, gender equality, empowerment of women,
family, sexual and reproductive health, reproductive rights, maternal
and child health, migration, and education. And, with only five
years left to fulfill the agreements laid out in the PoA, governments
and advocates alike are feeling the crunch.
Maria Antonieta Alcalde, Deputy
Director of Public Affairs with International Planned Parenthood/Western
Hemisphere Region, describes the PoA as an agenda, not just for governments,
but for non-governmental organizations (NGO) as well. The presence
here of many NGOs who advocate for sexual and reproductive health and
rights (SRHR) and ensured delivery and access to services attests to
the spirit of cooperation. Advocates bring their technical expertise
to educating members of the commission, making themselves available
to the delegates, and offering technical assistance. Some delegations
even include NGO representatives as part of their team.
While the overwhelming majority
of the NGOs present at the CPD represent SRHR advocates and program
implementers, there is a small contingency of right-wing organizations.
Organizations such as United Families International, Family Watch International,
World Youth Alliance, Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, and
the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children have submitted statements
and attended the Commission proceedings and side events and reaching
out to country delegates. Of particular interest to these organizations
seems to be the delegation from the United States and the shift in U.S.
priorities under the Administration of President Obama.
The last eight years have been
marked by a U.S. presence at the United Nations that was mostly unfavorable
to SRHR, often aligning with some of the most conservative governments
on SRHR related issues. The new Administration, however, has demonstrated
a renewed commitment to upholding many of the goals expressed in the
ICPD Program of Action. Margaret Pollock, Acting Deputy Assistant
Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration, Department of State
and head of the U.S. delegation, delivered the much anticipated U.S.
statement to the Commission on March 31. The statement expressed the
commitment of the United States government to "ensuring safe and voluntary
family planning," delivering "comprehensive and accurate information
on sexuality," linking "HIV/AIDS and voluntary family planning programs,"
and to moving towards ratification of the Convention on the Elimination
of all Forms of Discrimination against Women. Pollock also discussed
the recent reinstatement of UNFPA funding to the tune of $50 million
annually, the reversal of the Mexico City Policy, as well as the U.S.
government’s endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on Human
Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.
Austin Ruse, President of the
Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, sees such accomplishments
at the United Nations as President Obama "paying his debts to the
hard left on abortion, [and] homosexual marriage" and warns of the
push for more "radical" policies.
The Commission’s first two
days of statements, informal negotiations and keynote addresses have
laid the groundwork for the final stretch of negotiations on the resolution
to come out of the 42nd session. If the response to the call of
"all hands on deck" demonstrated by the presence and engagement
of the many SRHR advocates is any indicator of the direction these negotiations
will take, we will see a strong outcome at this year’s CPD session.