Standing strong for sexual and reproductive health rights

26.07.2018 - Article

Insights from the 51st session of the UN Commission on Population and Development

Commission on Population and Development 51st session opening segment
Commission on Population and Development 51st session opening segment© BMZ

Sustainable cities, human mobility and international migration were at the core of discussions at the 51st session of the UN Commission on Population and Development. Germany helped forge a global alliance that stood strong in its defence of sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The 51st session of the UN Commission on Population and Development came to an end in New York on April 13. The expert body for population matters discussed issues around the nexus of sustainable cities, human mobility and international migration – topics of the present and the future that concern all of us. Member States particularly emphasised the social dimension of the theme, and placed the needs and rights of persons at the center.

We are global, urban and mobile

In 2030, around 60 percent of the world population – in other words, five billion people, will live in cities. Urban areas are particularly attractive to live in – because of their opportunities for employment and education, but also for culture and leisure. But urbanization poses challenges on local governments, and can affect inhabitants in different ways.

‘All too often, urbanisation goes hand in hand with poverty and marginalisation’, said Reinhard Krapp, Minister, Permanent Mission of Germany to the UN in Germany’s national statement at the general debate. By saying this, he referred to the vulnerable situations mobile populations might find themselves in when the logistical and social systems of local governments are overwhelmed. He continued that cities are key actors for sustainable development: Next to SDG 11 that targets cities per se, two thirds of the SDGs can only be achieved in or with cities – by ensuring that they are safe, resilient, inclusive and sustainable.

Indeed, sustainable cities are not only a concern of urban planners and developers – this much we know, at the latest since the adoption of the New Urban Agenda in Quito last year. This guiding document for the implementation of the Agenda 2030 contains a strong social dimension, emphasising human rights, inclusion and participation, and safety for individuals. The UN Population Division, as part of the CPD secretariat, described cities as major gateways for international migrants, whose needs may differ from other groups who move to and live in cities. Urban planning should therefore be inclusive of civil society and inhabitants’ voices.

Highlighting the difficult situation of many young migrants

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) highlighted the need to ensure young migrants’ human rights, both on their journeys and at the places at which they arrive. Many of them, and particularly women and girls, experience discrimination, abuse and sexual and gender-based violence and in many of these settings the number of child-, early and forced marriages is on the increase.

A recent UNFPA study looked at the situation of young migrants in so-called gateway cities in the Middle East and Northern Africa region. Many of them put their lives at risk to escape insecurity, poverty, violence and political unrest in their home countries. Once they have reached their destinations, however, they find themselves faced with numerous new challenges and frustrating barriers to realising their hopes for safety, education and employment.

In her keynote speech, Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of UNFPA, emphasised the enormous potential that young people hold for countries’ social and economic development. She therefore called upon Member States to continue their investments in young people, saying that ‘we must put our trust in them to help solve the challenges we face together.’

Speaking out, loud and clear, for sexual and reproductive health and rights

The annual thematic resolution of the CPD serves as a guiding document for Member States’ population policies and for their implementation of the Cairo Programme of Action. For the third time within four years, the session failed to produce such an outcome document, as negotiating groups could not reach consensus on the contentious issue of sexual and reproductive health and rights. In response, Germany forged an alliance of 35 states from all world regions, for which Tunisia took the lead. The alliance came forward with a bold statement to affirm the importance of sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The statement underscores that sexual and reproductive health and rights are human rights, that their fulfilment is indispensable for the achievement of sustainable development, gender equality and poverty eradication, and that the Commission, the UN Population Division and UNFPA have crucial roles to play in their realisation.

The delegations’ and civil society’s loud applause in response to the statement is testimony to the CPD’s commitment to keep sexual and reproductive health and rights squarely on its agenda.


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