U.S. Views on Population, Reproductive Health, and Rights

May 24, 2013 • Family Planning, Reproductive Health, United States, Daily Email Recap

U.S. Views on Population, Reproductive Health, and Rights

Remarks by Anne C. Richard

May 16, 2013

See: http://www.state.gov/j/prm/releases/remarks/2013/209545.htm

Thank you, Maureen, for that kind introduction, and my thanks to the Funders Network for Population, Reproductive Health and Rights for inviting me to speak with you here today as you meet to consider this important agenda. Your mandate and the work you do, both as individuals and organizations, is critically important to the health and well-being of millions of women and girls around the world.

The Obama Administration is proud to partner with, and in many cases, follow the lead of your organizations in these endeavors, and we commend you for tackling this essential set of issues. You know that there can be no development without a focus on women, and women cannot fully participate in development unless their reproductive rights are respected and reproductive health needs are met.

Today I’m going to speak about the Obama Administration’s efforts to promote reproductive health and rights, and incorporate population issues more broadly into our policies, especially as we engage in post-2015 development framework discussions and processes. The mid-point of the Administration provides an opportunity to take stock and assess what we’ve accomplished so far, and what work remains to be done. Right now, the U.S. government is in the early stages of considering our positions on the post-2015 development framework and upcoming multilateral review processes. I’d like to discuss these with you and then I’ll touch on the challenges and successes of recent international negotiations where Margaret Pollack and Beth Schlachter have played leadership roles.

I know you’re also interested in hearing about the transition we’ve recently undergone at the State Department as Secretary Kerry has assumed leadership from Secretary Clinton. So I’ll start by telling you that Secretary Kerry has made it absolutely clear that he intends to continue the legacy of Secretary Clinton, who did so much to integrate and elevate gender issues and women’s empowerment into our foreign policy. As he recently wrote in a letter to 23 senators, “Please be assured that under my watch, the Department of State will remain a powerful champion for gender equality and women’s rights around the world. This is critical.” In fact, as a U.S. Senator, Secretary Kerry attended the 1994 Cairo Conference, so he has been playing a role on these issues for nearly twenty years.

We are also looking forward to the confirmation of Cathy Russell, who is Secretary Kerry’s nominee to become the next Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues. Strong leadership in this vital position will allow us to continue the progress we’ve made to integrate women’s issues into our work across the board, and to guide State’s implementation of our strategies on gender – including the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, and the Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally.

I think most of you are aware of the various, and sometimes overlapping, development review processes that are currently underway. These include (1) the 20 year review of the International Conference on Population and Development’s – or Cairo Conference’s – Program of Action, (2) the 20 year review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, (3) the development of the post-2015 development agenda, and (4) discussions on sustainable development goals.

The ICPD and Beijing agendas and MDGs have each helped to focus international efforts toward the aim of sustaining development progress and served as guideposts to rally domestic and international support for development programs. And so their review processes are important because they will help us measure progress to date in meeting these development objectives. Based on the outcome we can then set priorities for many of the leading development agencies around the world, affecting how resources are allocated and the types of programs that will be considered priorities.

In addition to these reviews, we are focused on outcome documents and resolutions of the annual sessions of the (5) Commission on Population and Development and the (6) Commission on the Status of Women as well as issue-specific resolutions in the (7) UN General Assembly and the (8) Human Rights Council. These negotiation processes add another layer to the background to the post-2015 discussions – and so their outcomes are also quite important.

I’m aware there are many discussions about the post-2015 development framework that are sponsored by civil society, non-governmental or international organizations and that have taken place over the past year. And so you know that many development goals rest on the advancement of women’s empowerment as their foundation. This is the case, for example, with Millennium Development Goal 5. It seeks to improve maternal health and provide universal access to reproductive health. If we are to achieve this goal within a new framework or a new set of goals, we must articulate and emphasize the centrality of sexual and reproductive health and rights to achieving them. This is really the key to the approach advocated by PRM.

So how do we get this right? From the perspective of the Bureau I lead – Population, Refugees, and Migration – we know that the growing and changing global population will have an impact on the world’s ability to reach whatever collective development goals we craft. The reproductive health and fertility decisions the current generation of youth makes will set the course of population health and growth for years to come.

For example, we’re all aware that world population reached 7 billion in 2012, and populations in many countries have larger percentages of young people than ever before, and this is especially true among developing or middle-income countries. These young people-and particularly girls-must to be educated and prepared with the right skills to meet the labor force needs of tomorrow.

Paradoxically, many developed countries have populations that are largely ageing, and don’t have enough young people to sustain their social systems as far into the future as they were designed to do. Experts predict that world population is likely to reach 9 billion by 2050, but it could go as high as 10 billion, so the policies and programs of the coming years will have a huge impact on the world’s development in the coming decades. Thus we know that future population growth and resulting population dynamics will be influenced by the policies being discussed and developed right now.

People are also migrating as never before, both within their countries and across international borders, as well as from rural to urban areas. And many people are living in extremely vulnerable situations as refugees or displaced persons, having fled violence, war, persecution or other crisis at home. These crises do not just rob people of their lives, happiness, and futures. They also continue to disrupt our progress in reaching global development goals as well.

These factors – the P., the R. and the M. in PRM – will form the backdrop of our efforts to the post-2015 development agenda, and we must think carefully about them.

Another issue with which the Obama Administration has been grappling is how large the scope should be for a new development framework to succeed the Millennium Development Goals.

First, it is important to remember we have roughly 1,000 days to finish strongly on the work of the MDGs. One goal has already been achieved: the number of people in extreme poverty has been halved; and some sub-goals have also been met, including providing access to drinking water and improving the lives of slum-dwellers. However, progress has been uneven and we have major work ahead. Thus, even as we lay the foundation for a future development agenda, we must continue to focus on achieving the current goals, and we have sought to accelerate progress towards their fulfillment.

So in looking at a post-2015 framework, there are a number of schools of thought. Do we simply tweak the highly successful MDG agenda with its focus on poverty eradication?

Or, do we expand our framework to address global challenges with shared solutions from all societies? Our future agenda must be relevant to a changing world – we are interconnected in ways that were unimaginable even a generation ago and our policies and actions must reflect this. Our economies are more integrated than ever before. The geography of poverty is changing with increasing wealth in the developing world, and new technologies are opening new ways of solving common challenges.

Focusing on this notion of shared responsibility and collective action seems a logical way of addressing global inequality and inequity. We envision one post-2015 agenda that addresses poverty, inclusive growth, and sustainability. Ultimately, we want a set of goals that are ambitious, measurable, limited in number, and that can be easily explained to the general public.

In order to support our overarching priorities and achieve specific development goals, it’s essential that we address health inequities. And for the most vulnerable – women and girls – that means we must carefully consider how we prioritize sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights during the formal negotiation process in the months ahead.

In doing so however, we must make sure that we continue to give due consideration to the incorporation of a “rights-based” perspective into policies and programs for women and girls, especially for those living in the lowest income countries, where the largest gaps exist in reaching the Millennium Development Goals. We can’t forget that in the least developed countries, none of the MDGs have been achieved. It’s important that we think ahead of time about how we will address this massive inequity, especially considering the instability of many of the most vulnerable regions and countries.

We support the ongoing discussion of human rights in the context of the post-2015 development framework. Addressing the fundamental needs and development of individuals must be at the heart of the post-2015 framework, and for women, this means careful consideration of reproductive rights. For ultimately whether we succeed or fail will depend on our ability to empower people, particularly women and young people, to make decisions for themselves.

Mortality and morbidity related to sexual and reproductive health, particularly for women and adolescent girls, are still unacceptably high in many regions of the world. They undermine efforts to reach our other development goals. These illnesses and deaths occur in the prime years of life. They have life-long consequences for women and girls, and their families, who suffer the direct health and economic consequences.

I want to assure you that the Obama Administration understands that we must continue to promote sexual and reproductive health. This includes universal access to voluntary family planning as a life-saving intervention that is essential for promoting health, economic growth, and development across the globe. . Protection of sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights is also central to the prevention and mitigation of violence against women and girls.

There is an undeniable link between a woman’s ability to control her own fertility and her ability to achieve autonomy. There is also a link between autonomy and women’s empowerment. These relationships, in turn, affect the rate of population growth, and the ability to reach development goals. Improving access to reproductive health services, including family planning creates a beneficial ripple effect that is a necessary ingredient to helping women plan and care for their families, support their communities, and contribute economically, politically and socially to their country’s development.

The ability to make important decisions about childbearing is one of the most basic rights for individuals. Programs that increase women’s access to modern forms of contraception and reproductive health services are critical to improving the status of women and upholding these basic human rights around the world.

As USAID Administrator Raj Shah, who led the U.S. government delegation, and many of your organizations reaffirmed last summer during the London Family Planning Summit, helping women in the developing world to have the same access to lifesaving contraceptives as those in the developed world must be central to our efforts. For many women, the inability to access modern contraceptives can cost them their lives. One of the key goals of the Administration’s Global Health Initiative is to help young women and girls dramatically improve their life chances through delaying the age of first pregnancy. We understand that families, communities, and nations benefit when women can control the number, timing, and spacing of their births.

We’re only a few months in, but so far 2013 has proven to be a pivotal year, with notable successes in both the Commission on the Status of Women and the Commission on Population and Development in securing consensus on resolutions on violence against women and girls, and on migration. As many of you may remember, last year there were considerable challenges raised by various missions at the United Nations in New York. They sought to undermine support for sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights and set back well-established agreements on language in these same fora.

Unfortunately we still see the leadership of far too many countries that are uncomfortable empowering women. They push back against those who seek to advance global normative standards. But we will continue to work with civil society and like-minded governments to advance these important issues.

Margaret and PRM’s population and migration teams at the Commission on Population and Development and Beth Schlachter at the Commission on the Status of Women served on delegations that fought back against re-opening these issues and/or setting back the clock. Until the last few hours of both meetings, consensus was uncertain. Reproductive health and rights issues represent some of the most divisive addressed in the Beijing and Cairo agendas, and strong opposition to action-oriented resolutions mounted before and during the negotiation processes.

However, solid resolutions were ultimately adopted by the members of both Commissions. In the case of the CSW, the outcome document elaborates the multiple ways in which sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights are central to addressing and preventing violence against women and girls. And for CPD, the resolution articulates why women and girls continue to need access to sexual and reproductive health services even as they migrate, and why their reproductive rights must be respected regardless of where they live. So this year’s successes put us on a positive footing as we head into the Commission on Population and Development and the Commission on the Status of Women 20 year review processes.

When it comes to the empowerment of women and girls, though, it’s not enough that we simply reaffirm the goals and policies outlined almost 20 years ago. We believe one of the positive outcomes of the review processes will be an opportunity for the world to take note of the progress we have made together. After all the hard work of advocates, governments and international and nongovernmental organizations over the past 20 years, there has been tangible progress in integrating a right-based perspective into a wide range of policies and programs.

The normative standards advanced by these review processes, as well as those put forth through the annual cycle of General Assembly and Human Rights Council resolutions are critical to our efforts to improve the opportunities for successive generations of women and girls. Each time we discuss the important issues that have an impact on the lives of women, we have an opportunity to review progress, share best practices, and identify new gaps or linkages that help us make progress.

Across the board, it’s clear we need strong leadership and enhanced understanding of these challenges in order to continue to make progress. On this front, we look again to civil society – including your organizations – to hold us accountable and ensure that our policies and programs are efficient and reap results.

We count on you to help us here in Washington to make the case for strong U.S. funding and engagement on these critical issues, including for important UN entities such as the UN Population Fund, UNICEF, and UN Women. Your organizations are in the field and can tell the most compelling stories of people whose lives have been directly affected by our initiatives. We count on you to provide the context for why consistent U.S. government support for sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights are so important globally.

I hope I’ll have the chance to hear from you today about what you think the State Department can be doing to be an even better partner with you to ensure that we reach the women, girls, and young people with the quality sexual and reproductive programs they want and need.

I commend your focus on the hard issues, such as elevating reproductive health and rights on the agenda in Washington , the international impact of U.S. foreign policy, and the role of religion on reproductive rights and justice. I understand that you will cover a range of topics during your meetings, and I wish you all the best for fruitful discussions.

Your continued support and commitment is essential to fighting for the lives of women you may never meet, to ensuring that today’s girls – and boys -have a future that offers great promise. We wish for them the freedom to decide for themselves on matters of their own sexuality so that they may enjoy strong healthy families and live in thriving communities and nations.

Thank you for your hard work, and please know that you have my very best wishes for a successful meeting this week.

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