US Helps Disrupt UN Meeting on Policies for Growing Youth and Aging Populations

Deliberations at the 50th session of the Commission on Population and Development (CPD) ended on Friday, April 7, without a resolution addressing the theme of “Changing Age Structures and Sustainable Development.” The resolution would have committed governments to adopt population and development policies that meet the needs of the largest ever cohort of young people and also the growing numbers of older persons, while addressing gender equality and women’s and girls’ human rights.

Qatari Ambassador Alya bint Ahmed Al Thani, Chair of the Commission, issued a chair’s text on the last morning of the meeting, after 10 days of intense negotiations. The text represented the views expressed by most of the governments that participated in the negotiations: that universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, comprehensive sexuality education for adolescents and youth, and protecting all people’s reproductive rights remained critical strategies for development. Ambassador Thani withdrew her proposal after the United States and some countries within the African Group (a regional bloc representing 52 African countries), in particular Egypt, Comoros, Cameroon, and Djibouti, sought to have major sections of the text deleted.

The United States, which had earlier in the week eliminated all of its funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), went as far as to object to commitments to ensure that women had access to “the widest possible range of safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning, including long-acting contraceptives and male and female condoms.” The US also sought to delete references to comprehensive sexuality education and to limit commitments to provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and to protect reproductive rights.

Throughout the negotiations on the draft resolution, the United States had also sided with the Vatican, Russia, and others to remove references to sexual rights, as well as to the need to address unsafe abortion as a major cause of maternal mortality and to train and equip health care workers to provide access to safe, legal abortion services.

A cross-regional group of 31 countries issued a statement after the chair’s text was withdrawn, decrying the attempts of a handful of countries to roll back fundamental human rights and block approval of the resolution. “We firmly believe that the full realization of all human rights, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, achieving gender equality, and the empowerment of women and girls are essential for addressing changing population age structures, eradicating poverty, and achieving sustainable development for all,” said Fabienne Bartoli of the French government, who delivered the statement. South Africa, Tunisia, and a group of Latin American countries also read strong statements of support for the chair’s efforts and for sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The policies proposed in the blocked resolution are crucial to secure a stable and fruitful future for young people and adolescents and create the conditions where all people, including women and girls, can achieve their full potential. By rejecting these policies and siding with the likes of the Vatican, Russia, and Egypt, the United States is now taking positions on sexual and reproductive health and rights that are counter to global norms established through United Nations conferences and agreements.

IWHC attended the Commission on Population and Development, held April 3 to 7, with advocates from the International Sexual and Reproductive Rights Caucus, representing more than 100 nonprofit organizations from 50 countries, advocating for the sexual and rights of women, girls, and young people around the world. The Commission on Population and Development is the forum at the United Nations charged with overseeing implementation of the landmark Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the outcomes of its reviews.

Photo: Jason Dickert

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