Guardian: Cario+20: what progress has been made on women’s rights?

Posted on September 22, 2014  |  Related Issues: Comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Health, Family Planning, Women, Girls, and HIV, Maternal Health, U.S. Foreign Policy & Funding

The Guardian, September 22, 2014

Twenty years ago, 179 governments signed a landmark agreement that put women’s rights, empowerment and well-being at the centre of discussions about population growth and development. The outcome of the International Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo in 1994, moved away from the prevailing view that population could be controlled solely through family planning, and instead emphasised the importance of women’s social and economic empowerment to bring about change. Leaders are now meeting in New York to discuss progress since the Cairo agreement. But what do women’s rights campaigners think? They share their thoughts


At Cairo, women’s rights advocates, led by women from the global south, dared to change the conversation on population and development from one that focused on demographics and fertility control to discussions around economic inequalities, social justice, and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

Today the legacy of that movement is seen in the work of women leading civil society organizations, entering politics, leading countries and heading their nation’s delegations to conferences. We’ve seen reproductive health laws liberalised as a result of Cairo, including abortion laws in Ethiopia, Uruguay and Colombia. Gender-based violence has been elevated to the global level.

The legacy of that moment, however, is also in the missed opportunities and compromises of Cairo. Integration of maternal health, family planning and HIV services within healthcare systems is still the exception rather than the norm. Access to safe abortion is denied to millions of women and girls each year, resulting in 47,000 deaths. Adolescent and youth sexuality is stigmatised, and discrimination against sex workers, LGBT and other marginalized individuals contributes to unwanted pregnancies, maternal deaths and HIV infections.

There is a great deal of work to be done to make the promises of Cairo a reality for women, men and young people. Considering the timid support for SRHR in drafts of the sustainable development goals, advocacy is paramount to secure government commitments and investments. Yes, Cairo was historic. But we cannot let our movement stagnate there. We must push forward.

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