|Reproductive Health Under Attack at the United Nations|
Reproductive Health Under Attack at the United NationsReproductive Health Matters, Vol. 9, No. 18, November 2001
Letter to the Editor
To the Editor:
On 19 September 2001, while the world's attention was elsewhere, the UN Secretary General's office issued a Road Map of Millennium Development Goals, a set of targets and indicators to be used by governments, the UN system and other multilateral donors to measure progress in development programmes. This "Road Map", however, leaves out the central goal of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD): ‘to make accessible through the primary health care system, reproductive health to all individuals of appropriate ages as soon as possible and no later than the year 2015'. Because of this politically motivated omission, reproductive health advocates from all over the world sent hundreds of letters to the Secretary General and heads of UN agencies to urge them to reinstate this goal. The Vice-Presidents of the World Bank also wrote a strongly worded letter to the office of the Secretary General. All to no avail. Only those goals that are included in the Road Map, and for which progress is measured, are likely to be given priority by governments. This could seriously weaken the commitment of UN agencies and national governments to sexual and reproductive health programmes. Some European governments, unhappy about this turn of events, are planning to raise the issue in the UN General Assembly this year. The absence of ‘reproductive health for all' as a goal is not an isolated event. It is part of an ongoing battle over reproductive health at the UN. The campaign was, until early this year, led by the Holy See, a handful of conservative countries (notably Sudan, Libya, Iran and Iraq) and North American right-wing groups. Since 1994, they have joined forces at the international level to try to deny women the right to control their fertility and sexuality.
The election of George W Bush marked the entry of the USA into this fundamentalist club, adding substantially to its power. As early as January 2001, the Bush Administration turned its attention to the upcoming UN General Assembly Special Session on Children. This Special Session will produce agreements on measures to be taken by governments to improve the lives and realise the rights of all children up to the age of 18. Working closely with its new ‘allies,' the Bush Administration has waged a systematic campaign to have the words ‘reproductive health' removed from paragraphs related to adolescent health in the agreements, whose wording has yet to be finalised. The USA argues, disingenuously, that the phrase ‘reproductive health services' must be removed because it might ‘force' countries to offer abortion services. Paragraph 7.6 of the ICPD Programme of Action does include abortion in ‘reproductive health care', but it makes it perfectly plain that this is in circumstances where abortion is not against the law. Yet the US delegation wants to replace ‘reproductive health services' with ‘basic social services'. The United States is also insisting on a definition of sex education that would preclude anything but admonitions to remain ‘abstinent until marriage', denying young people information about sexuality, condoms, contraception and sexual abuse. This is nothing less than a direct attack on the entire ICPD Programme of Action, women's reproductive health and human rights in general. We can expect more of the same at other UN negotiations, e.g., the ten-year Rio review on environmental issues in 2002 and the ten-year review of ICPD implementation, should the UN decide to hold one. Active support by health and rights advocates of those governments who continue to resist this nefarious campaignwill be crucial in the coming months and NGOs must pressure the Bush Administration to change its position and support high-quality, integrated sexual and reproductive health programmes—including safe and accessible abortion.
Copyright, 2001, Reproductive Health Matters. Reprinted with permission.
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