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US at the UN: Strong Support for Family Planning

Posted Apr 02 2009 4:00am
This week is the 42nd session of the Commission on Population and Development (CPD) at the United Nations headquarters in New York.  It is taking place fifteen years into the Programme of Action (PoA), adopted at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, and government officials, representatives from international organizations, advocates, and program implementers are taking stock of our progress.  The theme for the CPD this year is "The contribution of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development to the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals."  

The CPD is an annual meeting, which historically has a more technical emphasis rather than political one, unlike, for example the Commission on the Status of Women.  However, because it is the 15 year anniversary of the adoption of the PoA, the meeting has a mixed tone, focusing both on measuring specific outcomes and expressing political will.  Discussion topics include population economic development, gender equality, empowerment of women, family, sexual and reproductive health, reproductive rights, maternal and child health, migration, and education.  And, with only five years left to fulfill the agreements laid out in the PoA, governments and advocates alike are feeling the crunch. 

Maria Antonieta Alcalde, Deputy Director of Public Affairs with International Planned Parenthood/Western Hemisphere Region, describes the PoA as an agenda, not just for governments, but for non-governmental organizations (NGO) as well.  The presence here of many NGOs who advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and ensured delivery and access to services attests to the spirit of cooperation. Advocates bring their technical expertise to educating members of the commission, making themselves available to the delegates, and offering technical assistance.  Some delegations even include NGO representatives as part of their team. 

While the overwhelming majority of the NGOs present at the CPD represent SRHR advocates and program implementers, there is a small contingency of right-wing organizations.  Organizations such as United Families International, Family Watch International, World Youth Alliance, Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, and the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children have submitted statements and attended the Commission proceedings and side events and reaching out to country delegates. Of particular interest to these organizations seems to be the delegation from the United States and the shift in U.S. priorities under the Administration of President Obama.  

The last eight years have been marked by a U.S. presence at the United Nations that was mostly unfavorable to SRHR, often aligning with some of the most conservative governments on SRHR related issues.  The new Administration, however, has demonstrated a renewed commitment to upholding many of the goals expressed in the ICPD Program of Action.  Margaret Pollock, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration, Department of State and head of the U.S. delegation, delivered the much anticipated U.S. statement to the Commission on March 31. The statement expressed the commitment of the United States government to "ensuring safe and voluntary family planning," delivering "comprehensive and accurate information on sexuality," linking "HIV/AIDS and voluntary family planning programs," and to moving towards ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.  Pollock also discussed the recent reinstatement of UNFPA funding to the tune of $50 million annually, the reversal of the Mexico City Policy, as well as the U.S. government's endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.   

Austin Ruse, President of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, sees such accomplishments at the United Nations as President Obama "paying his debts to the hard left on abortion, [and] homosexual marriage" and warns of the push for more "radical" policies. 

The Commission's first two days of statements, informal negotiations and keynote addresses have laid the groundwork for the final stretch of negotiations on the resolution to come out of the 42nd session.  If the response to the call of "all hands on deck" demonstrated by the presence and engagement of the many SRHR advocates is any indicator of the direction these negotiations will take, we will see a strong outcome at this year's CPD session.  Stay tuned...

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