Women's Enews (USA), September 10, 2004
Women Across Globe See Impact
of Cairo Pact
(WOMENSENEWS)--Hundreds of health care advocates
from around the world gathered in London last
week to celebrate the midway point of a two-decade
journey to achieve universal access to sexual
and reproductive health care services by 2015.
But hurdles in their path cast a shadow over
the meeting, leaving participants with mixed
feelings as they departed from the three-day
To be sure, advocates savored their successes
over the last decade. Since 1994, access to
and quality and usage of contraceptives has
been on the rise, the rate of population growth
has slowed and government and nongovernmental
officials now take the role of women into account
when devising population and development policies.
Nevertheless, delivery of sexual and reproductive
health services has slowed, if not stalled,
in some regions of the world, thanks to the
rapid spread of the HIV/AIDS virus, a shortfall
in funding for reproductive health programs
and the rise of a anti-choice government in
the United States. Meanwhile, the rates of
teen pregnancy and maternal mortality remain
"In general, there was a certain ambivalence,"
Frances Kissling, president of the Washington,
D.C.-based Catholics for a Free Choice, recalled
upon her return from London. "The big
question on everyone's mind was whether the
glass was half empty or half full."
The Cairo Consensus
In 1994, international delegates from 179 United
Nations member states met in Cairo, Egypt,
and set a 20-year time frame for curbing the
population explosion, reducing poverty and
advancing women's rights by improving access
to sexual and reproductive healthcare. By 2015
they committed the world to being a place where
all people who wanted access to sexual and
reproductive health services could have it.
Participants at that International Conference
on Population and Development pledged to invest
billions of dollars in, among other things,
programs to improve the lives of women and
girls in the hopes that better health care,
better education and more work opportunities
would enable them to improve their family and
The plan represented a radical break from previous
population meetings because it involved interviews
with local men and women and onsite evaluations
of area clinics--a more personal approach to
population and development planning than had
previously existed. In the past, planners had
taken a more numbers-based approach, using
statistics and demographics to plan public
Now, at the midway point of the two-decade schedule,
some 700 health care professionals from nongovernmental
organizations around the world attended the
"Countdown 2015" conference to assess
how to overcome the key setbacks that have
slowed the delivery of reproductive health
Time for Plan of Action
"It's time to have a plan of action,"
Amy Coen, president of Population Action International,
an advocacy group in Washington, D.C., that
promotes reproductive health, said shortly
before departing for London. "It's time
to once again . . . make sure that the last
10 years really, really does what it can."
This conference marked the beginning of a protracted
assessment of the Cairo Consensus this fall.
On Sept. 15, the United Nations Population Fund
will release a report card on progress toward
implementing the agreement. Throughout the
fall, health care professionals will hold meetings
in several U.S. cities and around the world.
On Oct. 14, the United Nations General Assembly
will devote a day to commemorate the 10th anniversary
of the agreement.
During these meetings, advocates will wrestle
with strategies to overcome setbacks over the
last decade. One of the major challenges is
a considerable funding shortage.
In 1994, participating countries pledged to invest
a combined $17 billion per year by 2000, $18.5
billion by 2005, $20.5 billion by 2010 and
$21.7 billion by 2015. More affluent donor
nations promised to put up one-third of the
total investment while developing countries
agreed to do the rest.
But donor nations--including the United States--have
not made good on their promises, according
to Kristin Hetle, a spokesperson at the New
York-based United Nations Population Fund.
Developing countries have fulfilled 80 percent
of that promise while donor countries have
given only 50 percent, she said, adding: "There
are very few countries that have actually paid
their bill in full."
At the same time, the spread of HIV/AIDS and
the largest-ever generation of young people
has put an added pressure on the need for resources
for contraceptives and reproductive and sexual
health care services. In addition, the Sept.
11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the lackluster
economy have drawn resources and attention
away from non-profit programs.
Moreover, U.S. funding now has strings attached
thanks to the policies of the Bush administration.
In 2001, President Bush, on his first day in
office, reinstated the so-called Mexico City
Policy, also known as the global gag rule.
That was a policy put in place by the Reagan
administration in 1984 and revoked under the
It bars U.S. family-planning assistance to any
foreign health care agency that uses funds
from any source to perform abortions, provide
counseling and referral for abortion or lobby
to make abortion legal or more available in
their country. To receive U.S. funding, the
agencies may perform abortions only when there
is a threat to the woman's life or the pregnancy
is the result of rape or incest.
Many clinics were forced to shut down in the
wake of Bush's decision; still others lack
funding needed to operate and face closure.
In Kenya, for example, three family planning
clinics shut down after Bush made the change
and six more face closure; In Bangladesh, seven
clinics closed after the policy's reintroduction
and services were suspended in seven others.
And in Tanzania, three clinics in hard to reach
areas face closure.
The lack of clinics prevents men, women and children
from receiving basic health services such as
pap smears and treatment for respiratory infections,
health care advocates maintain. It also takes
away distributors of condoms and other means
to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS and other
sexually transmitted diseases.
The Bush administration has also scaled back
funding for the United Nations Population Fund,
the world's largest international source of
funding for population and reproductive health
programs. Funding shortfalls have led to unwanted
pregnancies, unnecessary abortions and the
deaths of mothers and children in many countries,
program officials say.
Abstinence Until Marriage
Meanwhile, the Bush administration has promoted
a policy of abstinence until marriage, a transition
that Coen called "really scary."
The administration's so-called ABC policy--A
for abstinence, B for be faithful and C for
condoms when necessary--undervalues the need
for condoms to prevent sexually transmitted
diseases, health care advocates say. They also
complain that a percentage of U.S. funding
for HIV/AIDS is also directed to abstinence
before marriage, taking funds away from other
programs they consider more important.
"The Bush administration is really an obstacle
to achieve the Cairo goals," said Odette
Salden, who works for the World Population
Foundation, a Dutch organization that advocates
sexual and reproductive health rights. "It
will be very difficult to overcome this administration."
To address these problems, advocates agreed at
the London conference to continue lobbying
the U.S. government for greater access to sexual
and reproductive health care services and to
continue to use the media as a pressure point
to push for more funding and to overturn conservative
In the meantime, advocates will continue to celebrate
a decade's worth of victories, one of the most
stunning of which has been the declining rate
of population growth: In 1994, the world's
population of 5.6 billion was growing at 93
million people per year. Today, the 6.4 billion
people on earth are growing at a rate of 77
million per year.
And despite funding shortages, the Cairo Consensus
has drawn money and attention to the dearth
of reproductive health services that otherwise
would not have been there.
The Cairo goals were "totally ambitious,"
said Jill W. Sheffield, founder and president
of Family Care International, a nonprofit organization
based in New York and dedicated to improving
the safety of pregnancy and childbirth.
"There really has been progress," Sheffield
said. "There's been a lot of progress."
Allison Stevens is a journalist based in Washington,
For more information:
Countdown 2015 Sexual and Reproductive Health
& Rights for All--ICPD at 10: - http://www.countdown2015.org
Planetwire: - http://www.planetwire.org
<< Womens Enews -- 9/10/04 >>
FAIR USE NOTICE
site contains copyrighted material the
use of which has not always been specifically
authorized by the copyright owner. We
are making such material available in
our efforts to advance understanding of
environmental, political, human rights,
economic, democracy, scientific, and social
justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes
a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material
as provided for in section 107 of the
US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title
17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on
this site is distributed without profit
to those who have expressed a prior interest
in receiving the included information
for research and educational purposes.
For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml.
If you wish to use copyrighted material
from this site for purposes of your own
that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain
permission from the copyright owner.