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UN reviews progress and challenges 30 years after landmark population conference

Young adolescents in the north of Thailand learn about different contraceptive measures.
UN News/Daniel Dickinson
Young adolescents in the north of Thailand learn about different contraceptive measures.

UN reviews progress and challenges 30 years after landmark population conference


Global progress towards sustainable development will continue to stall unless countries do more to bridge the gender gap and reduce poverty and inequality, the President of the General Assembly said on Monday.

Dennis Francis was speaking at an event  to mark the 30th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo.

The landmark conference concluded with a Programme of Action, adopted by 179 governments, that put reproductive rights, gender equality and the empowerment of women, girls and young people at the heart of development.

Uneven progress

Mr. Francis pointed to significant advances and progress made since then, particularly in the areas of poverty reduction, life expectancy and food security. Maternal deaths have declined, he said, while access to primary education has expanded, for both girls and boys.

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“But, we must also admit that progress has been uneven, both within and among countries,” he said, as climate change, conflict and other crises have jeopardised many of these hard-won gains.

Nevertheless, the visionary objectives outlined in the Programme of Action “have only grown in importance”, he added, noting their connection to the global push to achieve sustainable development for all by 2030.

Support women and girls

“We must certainly do much more to acknowledge that empowered women and girls, children and others in vulnerable situations are central for peaceful, prosperous and sustainable societies and proactively do much more to support and facilitate them in the full realisation of their potential,” he said.

As many of the challenges that have hampered implementation of the Programme of Action persist, Mr. Francis urged countries to “find fresh, innovative ways” to both address and overcome them.

“And let us rededicate ourselves, in earnest, to a shared future of peace, prosperity, progress and sustainability for all, with all, everywhere,” he concluded.

Accelerate action, set priorities

Separately, the UN Deputy Secretary-General called for the anniversary of the Programme of Action to be an opportunity to both accelerate action on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to set priorities for the next 30 years.

Amina Mohammed delivered remarks to the 57th session of the UN Commission on Population and Development, which runs through Friday.

With the global population now surpassing eight billion, she said the international community must prepare for continued population growth in sub-Saharan Africa and slow growth or decline in much of Asia, Europe and Northern America and later in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Missing the mark

While great progress has been made over the past three decades, she said many countries are still falling short of life expectancy targets, and many developing countries face significant challenges in achieving the SDG target on child mortality.

Additionally, 164 million women of reproductive age worldwide have no access to family planning services.

“While all countries are on the path towards longer lives and smaller families, some continue to face the challenges of rapid population growth. Others are grappling with the consequences of population ageing, sometimes population decline. And we see our health systems struggling,” she said.

Push back against pushbacks

Ms. Mohammed underlined the need for countries to fully recognise the megatrends that are reshaping the world today such as climate change, demographic shifts and urbanisation and their critical connections to the SDGs.

“We must remain vigilant and continue to address situations where sexual and reproductive health and rights are being rolled back,” she said. “We must respond and push back when women’s rights are being eroded and when migrants and other vulnerable populations are mistreated.”

She urged the international community to “continue to uphold the dignity of all people, ensuring that no one is left behind” and to “support rights-based approaches in our population and development policies”.