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NAIROBI, Kenya - The Nairobi Summit on the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25) was deemed an overwhelming success with over 9,500 participants from more than 170 countries who came with a shared purpose to achieve the ICPD25 goals. 

By the end of the conference, over 1,250 commitments were made by governments, donors, businesses, non-governmental organizations, civil society and other actors to support these goals termed the “three zeros” –zero maternal mortality, zero unmet needs for family planning and zero tolerance towards gender-based violence. 

“I have been to many conferences and if such high attendance at the closing ceremony is any measure of success, this conference is in its own class,” remarked Kenya Deputy President Dr. William Ruto to a packed room of almost 7,000 people in his closing address. 

Kenya, Denmark and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) co-convened the three-day conference. “Let us seize the moment and make a big push to give a stronger assurance against gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, child marriages and maternal deaths.” The Kenyan government has committed to strengthen policies and legislation to reduce maternal deaths, the total elimination of female genital mutilation (FGM) and accelerate equal participation of women in the country’s politics and economy, according to the deputy president. 

The Summit represents a continuation of a global promise made 25 years ago during the first International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo where the world agreed that sexual and reproductive health is a human right. The challenges to meet these goals and aspirations are huge. 

One in three women will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime. 

On a daily basis, around 33,000 girls are married or in union before she reaches 18 years of age. 

There is also pushback from some sectors of society, said Denmark Liberal Party parliamentary member and Equality Minister Karen Elleman. “The Nairobi Summit is a success, we have done it –the ICPD agenda is for all, period.” But she also acknowledged there are dissenters to the summit. “I find it hard to understand how anyone can be against the right to decide your own body, your own life. The pushback to provide access to health services such as unsafe abortion – it is estimated that 25 million unsafe abortions take place every year. This number is way too high and it will only go up if we give in to the pushback.” 

But there are many supporters, including within the faith community. “Some churches continue to be part of the problem but some are part of the solution,” announced Antje Jackelen, Archbishop of the Church of Sweden. “Supporting sexual and reproductive health and rights is a win-win concept, societies that are gender-just will flourish more than those that aren’t.”

Attaining an attitudinal shift may prove more challenging than acquiring the necessary policy and legislative shifts required to fulfill the ICPD goals by 2030. “It’s important we have reproductive health and reproductive rights but if we don’t have justice, if we don’t change the way we think about people, we won’t change and will continue exclusion,” said Dr. Joia Crear Perry, President of the National Birth Equity collaborative in the United States. “In the US, even though by law we desegregated schools in 1965, for instance, schools are more segregated today than they were in 1965. People are still afraid and that fear prevents us from living more freely as a country.” 

Convincing communities to support issues such as sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) may prove more challenging than ever in the current political sphere, according to Magaly Marques, the SRHR Coordinator at MenEngage Alliance. “We are facing a crisis in democracy – there are many institutions and systems and values that feel threatened – the abuse of power from the U.S. and Brazil, for example, it impacts the whole society.” Marques works with men and boys, engaging them to encourage more gender equality. “It’s a long term commitment, we work with men and boys to recognize how to step up and be more aware.” 

Despite the challenges and ambitious goals many felt inspired and encouraged by the Summit, pledging to follow up on projects upon their return trip home from Nairobi, Kenya. 

Daintowon Domah Pay-Bayee is a young disabled woman from Liberia and works as a staunch advocate for the right of people with disabilities, including in the field of sexual and reproductive health rights. “Yesterday there was an important session concerning sexual and reproductive health rights for people with disabilities, normally we are completely left out of the whole discussion and yet we may well face the most discrimination,” Pay-Bayee said. The young activist set up a Young Women Leadership Association in Liberia and plans to work on SRHR programs for the disabled. “The first thing I will do is talk on a radio show to highlight the conference. Liberia’s budget comes in June next year, we will call for more funds to support SRHR to help the disabled community. This is something I am going to address, for sure.”

The path ahead is challenging for sure, but the United Nations Population Fund is setting up a panel of experts to drive the ICPD25 action plan forward to monitor and follow up on all the commitments made by participants at the summit. “Together, we will make sure that promises made are promises kept,” said UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem. “We know what we have to do, we know what it will cost, and we know why we do it –we do it because women and girls matter.” 

© AFP-Services