NAIROBI, Kenya - Another day passes and another 830 women have died during childbirth across the world. Teenagers in developing countries are particularly prone –complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading killer of girls aged 15-19 years. 

“The occurrence is so frequent we have become complacent, this is wrong,” said Dr. Ademola Olajide, the Head of UNFPA in Kenya. 

This is why about 170* world delegations, along with thousands of participants from civil society and the private sector are gathering in Nairobi on November 12 to launch the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) with the aim to end maternal death, improve access to family planning and stop gender-based violence by 2030. 

It is a goal derived from a global promise made 25 years ago during the first International Conference held in Cairo where the world agreed that sexual and reproductive health is a human right. Leaders decreed that no mother should die while giving life and gender-based violence has no place in modern society. 

Considerable progress has taken place since those declarations. From 1994 to 2015, maternal mortality rates have decreased by over 40 percent, according to the UN. 

But there are still yawning gaps that desperately needs to be addressed, says UNFPA Communications Director Arthur Erken. “As we sit here, over a quarter of a billion people do not have access to family planning and yet we agreed almost 50 years ago to the right to family planning,” Erken told AFP-Services. “This is why ICPD is taking place – to revive, galvanize partnerships and spur political and fiscal commitments to complete what was started 25 years ago.” 

While Nairobi represents a follow up from the Cairo conference in 1994, the level of participation will be wholly different, Erken said, inviting significantly wider level of participation from youth groups, civil society and the private sector. “You cannot stay in your lane, you also have to engage other groups, especially young people and the private sector.” 

Widening participation also means identifying new partners, a key funding consideration, says Danish Ambassador Ib Petersen. Denmark are leading global donors in this field and have supported the process since 1994. “There is a huge funding need to support this agenda,” Petersen said, “this is why it’s important to have new partners, including those in the private sector.”  

There is another difference between Cairo in 1994 and today’s Conference: it is taking place in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. 

“I am proud Kenya is taking a leading role in this,” said Permanent Secretary Saitoti Torome, State Department for National Planning. Torome told AFP-Services Kenya supports the agenda behind the ICPD, including finding an end to Female Genital Mutilation, a practice still affecting roughly 9 million women in Kenya, despite a government ban in 2001. 

There has, however, been some push back, Torome admits. Some faith-based leaders remain deeply skeptical on the real purpose of the conference, claiming the conference represents a breach of Kenyan cultural values.  

But many other religious leaders from diverse faiths have found more areas in common with the ICPD than against. Today, the All Africa Conference of Churches, a Christian fellowship, held a conference inviting diverse faiths to develop a common position towards the Conference. 

“We are preparing ourselves to speak with one voice as far as the ICPD is concerned,” said Sheikh Ibrahim Lethome from the Supreme Council of Muslims in Kenya. “We are happy to talk about development, things like gender-based violence, unmet maternity needs and family planning needs, we support all of this and we must talk about these issues, but we should also be sensitive to our religious values.”  

With more than 8,300* participants from diverse backgrounds, Nairobi is set for three days of debate and pledges of commitment by countries to support the ICPD action plan. It’s a commitment where each country determines what aspects of ICPD they want to advance.

© AFP-Services

*Updated December 2019