Levi Singh, from the South African ACT!2030 youth alliance, reflects on his experience at the 50th Session of the Commission on Population and Development in New York City.
I remember the events of the 48th UN Commission on Population and Development (CPD) quite vividly: South Africa was the chair of the G77 + China, and negotiations stretched on late into the night during all 5 days of the formal negotiations - but despite this, no formal agreement was reached.
The 50th Session of the CPD took place in New York from 3-7 April 2017, and again countries struggled to come to a consensus. It was the second time in three years that the commission could not reach a negotiated consensus resolution agreed by all Member States.
It cannot be glossed over or understated the incredibly divisive role which the United States played in this CPD. From announcing a complete withdrawal of funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) along the tune of an estimated US$ 32.5 million on the first day of formal negotiations (in line with the Mexico City Policy), to blatantly and continuously using the sexual & reproductive health & rights of all people - in particular young women and girls - as a political football by which they would continue to score own goals with other conservative team mate countries for the duration of the week through at least several versions of the text.
The US advocated hard to remove all mentions of modern contraception, CSE and reproductive rights from the text. The consequence of this is the creation of a further enabling environment for unsafe abortions, a rise in maternal mortality, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), new HIV infections, increased rates of teenage/adolescent pregnancies and unwanted pregnancies, and a proverbial yet incalculable middle finger to global goals 3 & 5, and what they represent.
I find it hard to grasp that for the third time in recent memory, and in the midst of the largest migrant crisis since the end of the Second World War, climate change, migration, health care service provision and improving data capabilities are less important than what "family" is defined as (families composed of same-sex couples, single-parent households, child-headed households or families headed by grandparent/aunt/uncle), how people choose to identify sexually or express their sexuality, termination of pregnancy and what kids should and shouldn't be taught with regards to their bodies, sex and growing up.
Nevertheless, there were glimmers of hope throughout the week. My country, South Africa proudly opening by stating its four priorities explicitly in the opening plenary, which included "Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) with a particular focus on adolescents" and "Gender Equality, Equity and the Empowerment of Women" whilst a group of 31 progressive and like-minded countries concluded the closing plenary with a strong statement that affirmed the imperative importance of sexual reproductive health and rights of all people, and comprehensive sexuality education for adolescents & young people. However, it was South Africa who once again took the floor in our national capacity at this juncture to voice our support for people of different sexual orientation & gender identity, for their rights to not be forgotten and for them to live lives free of discrimination and violence - in line with the values of our constitution, which relies heavily on the concept of leaving no one behind.
The highlight of the week for me was when a representative of an anonymous Islamic country in Africa approached my delegation on the matter of sexual rights, stating: "we've done good on family planning and women's rights, but in my opinion we need to recognize sexual rights. In law it's not clear, but we need to give them their rights - we need to have a separation between our (Muslim) religion and state."
Maybe, amidst all the doom and gloom that currently clouds the multilateral and intergovernmental setting, hope is a constant, the world is changing... Get cynical or get serious, I guess? We continue to chip away, we continue to strategize, mobilize, organize and work to ensure that we leave no one behind - because in the next 161 months (deadline for realizing agenda 2030 and the 17 SDGs) it will come down to what we've done, not what we've said.
All views are author's own
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