Government ministers from more than 40 countries in the Asia and Pacific region convened in Bangkok today at a United Nations-backed meeting aimed at hammering out recommendations for action on population issues and poverty eradication.
The Fifth Asian and Pacific Population Conference is expected to adopt a plan of action at the end of two days of meetings, emphasizing the need to address critical issues - including reproductive health, gender equality, HIV/AIDS and migration - as a key contribution to reducing poverty in the region and meeting the UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving by 2015 the number of people living on less than $1 day.
In a message to the gathering, Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that Asia and the Pacific faces numerous challenges. "In large parts of the region, deprivation prevails, with too many women and girls kept out of the development process, and illiteracy thwarting the efforts of millions of women and men for economic and social development," he said in the message, which was delivered by Kim Hak-Su, the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission (ESCAP).
Mr. Annan stressed that the MDGs, particularly the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, could not be achieved if population and reproductive health questions were not squarely addressed. "And that means stronger efforts to promote women's rights, and greater investment in education and health, including reproductive health and family planning," he said.
For her part, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), emphasized the importance of the Programme of Action adopted at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo, saying that it gave space "to everything from voluntary abstinence to meeting unmet needs for family planning, and include[s] carefully crafted language on abortion and adolescents, which articulates the common agreement among the participants in all their diverse cultures, religions, values and practices."
Ms. Obaid also stressed that the meaning of the phrases "reproductive health" and "reproductive rights" were not in doubt. "The components of reproductive health are safe motherhood, voluntary family planning, protection from and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS, and protection from gender-based violence," she said.