Negotiating Sexual and Reproductive Rights in the Post-2015 Development Agenda

How can we ensure sexual and reproductive health and rights are a priority in the next development agenda?

In a new article published by Global Health Policy, IWHC President Françoise Girard argues that the commitments made by governments 20 years ago at the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and in subsequent negotiations can and must be fully reflected in the development agenda that will succeed the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.

In her article, “Taking ICPD beyond 2015: Negotiating sexual and reproductive rights in the next development agenda,” Girard explains how governments have significantly expanded their understanding of a number of so-called controversial issues in the ICPD agenda, whether safe abortion, adolescent sexual and reproductive health services, comprehensive sexuality education, or sexual rights. Despite this progress, or perhaps because of it, a highly organized conservative opposition has emerged to block inclusion of these issues in the post-2015 development agenda. Girard stresses that countering this opposition will require a well-planned and determined mobilization by progressive forces from the Global North and South.

Girard writes:

The opposition to the right to control one’s body, reproduction and sexuality continues to be formidable – with powerful connections, impressive financial resources, and a vast infrastructure of religious and political entities all over the world. Global negotiations at the UN continue to be as contentious, if not more, as they were at ICPD in Cairo in 1994. At the national level, new and old political struggles rage over abortion, contraception, sexuality education, rape, parental consent, conscientious objection, child marriage, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

This opposition has not been able to stop progressive advances, however. Girard points to successful advocacy by activists and civil society during the 2012 Commission on Population and Development, the 2013 Commission on the Status of Women, and the five regional “ICPD Beyond 2014” reviews—the outcomes of which have shaped the current discourse on women’s health and rights. Girard called the consensus reached in Montevideo in August 2013 by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) “the most forward-looking document on SRHR ever agreed on in any diplomatic negotiation.” The 33 governments of the region fully acknowledged sexual rights and reproductive rights as essential for the achievement of social justice and sustainable development, and noted that countries that outlaw or severely restrict abortion continue to see high rates of maternal mortality and no decrease in the number of abortions. The Montevideo consensus urged states to amend laws restricting abortion to protect the lives of women and girls.

The successful outcome in Montevideo galvanized progressive activists and governments going into the 6th Asian and Pacific Population Conference (APPC) organized by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok in September 2013. In a clear indication that Latin America was not an outlier, 38 Asian and Pacific governments issued their own progressive document with strong commitments to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights, including for adolescents.

Despite this momentum, Girard points to potential obstacles to achieving an explicit recognition of sexual and reproductive health and rights in the post-2015 development framework. Such obstacles include “negotiation fatigue” among some diplomats and the possibility of sexual and reproductive health and rights and women’s rights being traded off in the UN General Assembly negotiations in deals involving  other contentious issues such as climate change, financing for development, or migration. Sustained advocacy by progressive activists will be critical to overcome these obstacles and shape the global development priorities for the next 20 years.

Girard’s published article can be read online at Global Health Policy (subscription required), or her original accepted manuscript can be found on our website.

Photo: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

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