Fifteen years after a United Nations conference on population vowed to put gender equality and reproductive rights at the centre of development, the number of maternal deaths from childbirth – “a staggering toll of more than half a million women each year” – has not changed, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned today.
“This may be a time of global financial turmoil and economic downturn, but it is not a time to renege on our promises to protect and invest in women – for their sake and for the sake of our collective future,” he told a General Assembly session commemorating the 15th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in Cairo in 1994, appealing for appropriate funding.
He cited the progress made: more women and couples today use modern contraception, with the rate rising from 47 to 56 per cent; 51 of every 1,000 babies now die during their first year of life, as compared to 71; and more than 60 per cent of women giving birth in developing countries now have skilled health personnel to help them, up from less than half.
“But as we all know, despite these efforts, for far too many people the Cairo consensus remains more a goal than a reality,” he said. “Some 200 million women still do not have access to safe and effective contraception. Too many women resort to abortions that are not safe, because they lack access to family planning.
“In too many countries, girls are still married off as child brides. The dangerous practice of genital mutilation and other harmful traditions continue to have a terrible impact. Sexual violence, especially during conflict, continues to victimize women on a mass scale.”
Stressing the number of childbirth deaths, Mr. Ban noted that progress on target five of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – to cut maternal mortality and achieve universal access to reproductive health care – lagged behind any other. The eight MDGs seek to slash a host of social ills, from extreme poverty and hunger to maternal and infant mortality to lack of access to health care and education, all by 2015.
“The conference was a shining example of what the United Nations does, like no other organization in the world: be a pioneer in addressing global challenges, and bring governments together to set international goals that go further than many countries would on their own,” he said.
“Today, we meet to hail the progress that has been achieved… to acknowledge the many problems that remain… and to strengthen our resolve to overcome them.”
To fully carry out the Cairo Programme of Action means providing women with reproductive health services, including family planning, backing poverty-eradication initiatives, preventing rape during wartime and ending the culture of impunity.
“All of these actions require funding,” he concluded.