Kenya is hosting a United Nations-coordinated conference on population and development this week in Nairobi. Over 6,000 delegates from 160 nations, including heads of state, are attending the three-day forum to discuss reproductive health rights, ending gender-based violence, and sustainable development.
The U.N.’s International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) opened Tuesday with repeated vows made at the first summit in Cairo, twenty-five years ago.
Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, a co-host of the conference, underscored the significance of the summit.
“I think we can all agree that ICPD was a turning point, a defining moment in our history,” Crown Princess Mary said. “In Cairo, the world articulated a bold new vision about the relationship between population, development and individual well-being and the empowering of women and meeting people’s needs for education and health, including sexual and reproductive health, are necessary for both individual advancement and balanced development.”
The summit aims to examine the progress made since a 1994 Program of Action drafted in Cairo.
More than 150 countries signed on to the plan, which placed women’s empowerment, individual dignity and human rights, and the right to plan one’s family at the heart of development.
In Nairobi Tuesday, heads of state stressed their countries’ policies and commitments to gender equality, sexual and reproductive health.
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged to end female genital mutilation (FGM) by 2022.
Kenyatta was among African leaders who called also for ending child marriage.
“I believe that we can all commit to eliminate child marriages. The percentage of young women between 20 and 24 years of age who are married before their 18th birthday has declined from 34 percent in 1994 to 25 percent in 2019,” said Kenyatta. “But the absolute number of girls under 18 who are at risk of child marriage is estimated at 10.3 million in 2019.”
Child marriage and sexual and reproductive healthcare are controversial issues in African nations where traditional cultures often clash with campaigns for individual rights.
In some countries like Kenya, laws that limit access to abortion services have fueled unsafe, often deadly, back-street abortions.
At the conference Tuesday, the U.N.’s Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed tied women’s rights squarely to development.
“The power to choose the number, timing and spacing of children is a human right that can bolster well-being, economic and social development. And when people can exercise their rights, they thrive,” said Mohammed. “And they do and, so do societies at large.”
To reach those goals, the Nairobi Conference on Population and Development is expected to produce pledges of financial support.
But it will take more than money and talk to see some African nations enforce laws and regulations on gender equality and sexual and reproductive health.