This year, we attended the UN’s Commission for Population and Development session for the first time ever ‘to discuss the vital impact that investing in quality education has on promoting opportunity and prosperity, advancing gender equality and ensuring environmental sustainability’. Our Communications Specialist, Florence Blondel, provides us with a summary of the five days.
Almost a quarter of a billion children worldwide are not in school. According to Xing Qu, the Deputy Director-General of UNESCO, the majority are females who “were forced out of formal education as a result of early marriage or early and unintended pregnancy.” Therefore, the 56th Commission for Population and Development (CPD) session’s theme—population, education, and sustainable development—could not have been more appropriate. And we are honoured to have been participants.
The Commission on Population and Development was set up in 1946, and is under the auspices of the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council – ECOSOC. In 2022, Population Matters obtained consultative status with ECOSOC. The CPD’s primary role is implementing the family planning and women’s empowerment Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). So, it was great to be part of the 56th session and for the first time ever making an oral statement to a UN body in an official capacity. We built new connections, gained knowledge that will aid our campaigns, provided our Choice Ambassador, Nyombi Morris, a chance to speak and gain knowledge, and we raised questions in meetings.
First of all, I want to take this wonderful opportunity to thank Population Matters for supporting me all the way from Uganda to come to New York and be part of the CPD56. However, there is a lot that I’ve seen that will have to change if we want to see progress.
56 years is a long time – we cannot wait for CPD100 for each of us to improve, provide evidence, or come up with solutions to improve the lives of the world’s underserved population when the number keeps going up. Every kind of solution is with us, but we are too slow to act.Nyombi Morris, PM Choice Ambassador | Environmental Activist
EDUCATION: THE CATALYST FOR GIRL’S AND WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT
Dr. Natalia Kanem, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director emphasised in her introductory remarks the significance of having access to a high-quality education for achieving the goals of the ICPD Programme of Action particularly for the empowerment of girls and women.
“When provided with the knowledge and skills they need to know and claim their rights, better educated women are healthier, marry later and are more likely to plan the number and spacing of children.
Many delegates made similar remarks during the event, including the UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina J. Mohammed, who admitted that while education is critical, it now appears impossible to accomplish Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 of education for all by 2030.
the battle over Comprehensive Sexuality Education
The issue of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), was a massive elephant in the room, with leaders from 22 different nations taking offence at it assuming centre stage. CSE is essential for empowering young girls but is also a sensitive subject. One Ghanaian official, a friend of PM, Dr Leticia Appiah got warm applause when she summed up what CSE meant.
“Education, as we all know, actually helps us to make choices. It gives us the leverage so that we can choose good from bad, better from good, and at times the best from better… Information is empowering. It is power. What you choose depends on the values that you have. And so I think we should be mindful of the fact that withholding information does not help anybody.
Although UNESCO data shows that more than 4 in 5 countries cover sex education in their national curriculum, implementation remains low despite support from parents, teachers and religious leaders.
Uganda, one of the 22 nations that disagreed over CSE references, has at least made recent progress in bringing teenage mothers into the classroom and re-engaging dropouts through informal education will be beneficial. Other African countries have adopted this tactic widely, particularly Gambia, which has had great success.
C-FAM: the opposition in action
Leaders from the ACT ALLIANCE, a global faith-based coalition that supports girls’ and women’s bodily autonomy, acknowledge that religion is rooted in patriarchy and that there needs to be reform. However, not all religiously inspired organisations at CPD shared their enlightened stance, including on CSE. In its oral statement, the influential organisation the Center for Family and Human Rights, known as C-FAM, warned against “educational institutions, and the international agencies that design education programming, must not usurp the role of the family, and parents specifically.”
C-FAM is an important player in the global campaign against abortion and promotes a “family values”, pronatal agenda, as detailed in our Gilead Watch report.
There is a clear moral hazard in countries relying on an ever expanding and more unscrupulous global industry for sexual and reproductive health services and education related to public health.
Next year will mark 30 years since the International Conference on Population and Development established the framework and guiding principles for UNFPA’s work. It was great to attend a side event Advancing the ICPD25 commitments in the context of sustainable development using a framework of sexual and reproductive health, rights and justice, where some countries like Kenya and South Africa shared progress.
The ICPD25 goals include; zero unmet need for contraception and family planning, zero preventable maternal deaths, and zero gender-based violence and harmful practices such as early child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). According to the Kenyan representative, population and development metrics have significantly improved.
“Between 2014 and 2022 Kenya has achieved the following; unmet need for contraception which we reduced from 18-14%, teenage pregnancies reduced from 18-15%, experience of physical violence in the last 12 months from 20-16% for women and from 12-10% for men, prevalence of FGM reduced from 21-15% and of course we can do better than that.Gen (Rtd.) Dr Julius Karangi, Chairman, National Council for Population & Development, Kenya
Co-Chair Michalle Jean stated that the Sexual and Reproductive Justice report from the ICPD25 High-Level Commission in 2022 was the means by which the Nairobi Summit pledges would be fulfilled and urged reform in the financing situation.
While acknowledging the issue with the ICPD agenda’s call to address the reproductive rights of girls and women and their partners rather than population figures, Dr Eliya Zulu of the African Institue for Development Policy (AFIDEP) emphasized that it was not a mandate not to address population.
“…because population is still a very, very important factor for sustainable development. Yes, let’s look at this issue from the rights perspective, but at the same time governments need to understand how the numbers are going to change from progression, growth perspective, from age structure changes.Dr Eliya Zulu
MATTERS EDUCATION, POPULATION AND ENVIRONMENT
In our statement to the UN, we called for environmental education to inform students of all the factors and we weren’t the only ones. Ethiopia’s State Minister Sandokan Debebe, critically looked at the interrelationships, saying his country’s education sector faces challenges in terms of quality as well as the difficulty of mobilising resources to reduce a large population base, especially given the high population of young people.
Rapid population growth is exacerbating the environmental degradation, soil erosion and unemployment. The population growth rate is also affecting access to education, health care and other essential services, which can impede efforts towards sustainable development. As a result, educating the population about the implication of high population growth is critical.
The Sri Lankan government urged the international community to support sustainable development in low-income and low-middle-class countries by providing them with technical and financial assistance to develop using technology that minimises environmental degradation after observing that the population is still growing primarily in these regions.
“We cannot deny the fact that the growth in global population, on the one hand, is due to the gradual increase in human longevity, on the one hand and the high level of fertility in many parts of the world.
According to Dr Julitta Onabanjo, Director of the UNFPA Technical Division, education was put in the spotlight at the meeting because the climate issue will force 12.5 million girls out of school in around 7 years.
Girls are sadly the most affected. They are vulnerable to child marriage and exposed to gender-based violence. Girls start pregnancy early and get all sorts of complications.
SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST: OUR STATEMENT
Our high point occurred on Day Three when Florence had the opportunity to formally address the meeting for three minutes. Her statement described our work and principles, and outlined the value of education in addressing populatin and environmental challenges. Watch it here (from 1:34:57). (Youcan also read the full statement here.)
Population Matters was represented by Florence and our Choice Ambassador, Morris Nyombi in New York.