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Victory for Youth at CPD: What does it mean?

On April 27, during its 45th Session, the United Nations Commission on Population and Development (CPD) adopted a landmark Resolution on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of adolescents and youth.

AWID spoke with RESURJ founding members, Neha Sood (Consultant, women’s rights, sexual and reproductive rights) and Alexandra Garita (IWHC Senior Program Officer, International Policy) about some of the implications of this resolution on the sexual and reproductive rights of young women and men.

By Ani Colekessian

AWID: What makes this a landmark resolution and why is it important to have such a document on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) that is specific to adolescents and youth?

Neha Sood (NS): The CPD is a United Nations (UN) body that monitors implementation of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action, a blueprint for governments to implement population policies with full respect to women’s reproductive rights. This session was the first time that this body discussed issues pertaining to adolescents and youth, at a time when the world has the largest generation of adolescents and youth aged 10-24 years in history. Sexuality, sexual and reproductive health and rights are sensitive subjects in several parts of the world, and more so with regards to adolescents and youth, especially those who are unmarried, disabled or queer. Hence, it is important to make progress on these subjects in public discourse, national and international policy.

Alexandra Garita (AG): This Resolution is “landmark” because, for the first time in the history of the UN, governments agreed to prioritize the 1.8 billion adolescents and young people’s human rights and health in development priorities. If used as guidance for development planning at country level, it could lead to significant progress. This resolution, in my opinion, is perhaps the most complete that exists to date on this particular population group. It contains key elements that can eliminate barriers to accessing comprehensive sexuality education for adolescents and young people; it instructs health care providers to respect their privacy and confidentiality and provide them with comprehensive health services, including contraception, male and female condoms, safe abortion services where legal, and HIV/STI prevention and treatment. Most importantly, this resolution recognizes the right of adolescents (minors under the law) to have control over and decide freely on all matters related to their sexuality. In essence, this is what we would consider “sexual rights”— recognizing their capacity to make informed decisions about if, when, how, and with whom to have sex and their right to say “yes” or “no” to any sexual activity, relationships, marriage, etc.

AWID: What were some of the challenges that emerged from the CPD and are there any important pieces that are missing from this resolution?

NS: Some governments continue to challenge concepts of reproductive rights and sexual rights established at Cairo and Beijingrespectively, and limit their definition. There isn’t consensus on issues such as abortion, sex work, sexual orientation, gender identity, and sexuality education. This means that national movements have to continue to build public discourse and advocate for policy and programs that affirm rights related to these issues. It would have been ideal for this resolution to recognize the discrimination and violence that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) adolescents and youth face in the family, community, schools, health institutions and national policy; and to commit to providing protection, fighting discrimination, reviewing laws, and training State personnel on these issues.

AG: As with any inter-governmental negotiation, the challenges are the reluctance of the majority of governments to willingly talk about and take seriously issues relating to sex and sexuality. This is particularly the case with some conservative governments, which seek to “protect” the concept of the “natural family”— i.e. husband, wife, and children with traditional divisions of labor, which continue to relegate women to their reproductive roles. The other challenge was agreeing to a clause in the text on national sovereignty, which in essence could trump everything contained in the resolution. The only thing “missing” was a provision we advocated for that would protect young people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

AWID: Can you tell us a bit about the involvement of young activists and your organizations in the process toward and at the CPD?

NS: A number of youth organizations and activists engaged with the CPD, advocating with governments and using social media to inform and mobilize young people around the CPD. Some even represented their governments on national delegations.

AG: The IWHC, Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), and members of RESURJ as well as Amnesty International colleagues all worked together over several months prior to the CPD, in order to make sure that we had strong feminist allies on national delegations of southern governments (Brazil, Philippines, Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, Indonesia, among others); that the Zero Draft was strong to begin with; that governments had strong positions that were in accordance with their own countries’ policies and programs; that the United States Government was supportive; that the Chair of the negotiations (Indonesia) was supportive of a strong outcome document; and that European like-minded delegations were aligned in their strategy. During the negotiations themselves, we were able to mobilize women’s and young people’s rights activists to lobby their governments with key messages, work with the media to give the negotiations visibility, brought delegations together to present a united front on SRHR, and had daily morning strategy sessions that kept us all informed and strong throughout the week.

AWID: What are the practical implications of this resolution for young women at the grassroots level?

NS: This resolution has many implications. It pressures governments to implement policies and programs on SRHR and gender equality. It mobilizes investments in sexual and reproductive health, sexuality education and the empowerment of girls and young women. And it invigorates national movements for women and young people’s SRHR and provides another tool for advocates’ arsenals. This means that, supported and monitored by civil society, including women’s and youth groups, governments will work harder to educate and empower girls and young women, provide quality sexual and reproductive health services and comprehensive sexuality education, and strengthen measures to achieve gender equality through policies and public education.

AG: This resolution will only matter if young women themselves take it to their communities and use it to inform policy and program implementation. We are already seeing this happen in a number of countries, where young women are using it to refuse early marriages, implement comprehensive sexuality education programs, distributing information to their peers, and claiming their rights to know their bodies and their rights within health care services.

AWID: Despite recent events at the 2012 CSW where, for the first time in history, no Agreed Conclusions document was produced, neither of you are surprised by the outcome of the CPD, why is that?

NS: Governments, UN agencies and civil society were committed and worked hard to produce a strong outcome at the CPD that would deliver to adolescents and youth. Indonesia, the Chair of the CPD held preparatory meetings with other countries in the months before the CPD. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reached out to a number of governments beforehand and provided technical advice. Youth groups, women’s groups and other SRHR organizations advocated with governments, briefed them, and secured places on national delegations. Consequently, we expected a strong outcome and achieved it!

AG: The failure of the CSW was due to a lack of strategy on the part of women’s rights organizations and equal lack of involvement in the negotiations and a very weak performance by UN Women, in addition to the conservative atmosphere. This put pressure on governments to uphold women’s human rights at the CPD and not permit a few ideologues – who had no national instruction – to ignore their countries’ positions in favor of their own personal beliefs.

AWID: What are the implications of this resolution going forward into the Rio+20 and ICPD+20 processes?

NS: This resolution is what we make of it. We have to use this resolution and build on it in upcoming processes, including Rio+20, CPD sessions and ICPD+20. At Rio+20, we have to use the ICPD Program of Action and this resolution to link SRHR with sustainable development, and we must delink population size and growth from discussions of various crises (water, food, energy, climate etc.) as this can progress to an argument to lower fertility rates rather than protect individuals’ right to exercise their reproductive autonomy. In the ICPD+20 process, we must ensure that the adolescent and youth SRHR issues recognized in this resolution are included in the review and secure commitments for their achievement in a time-bound manner.

AG: We are already succeeding in securing the language from this CPD into the Rio+20 negotiations on the rights of women, men and adolescents to decide on their sexuality within the gender equality section and are working hard to make sure this is retained. We are also confident that this resolution gives governments and feminists alike the energy and mandate to retain the Cairo and Beijing agreements and go even further to secure SRHR in the +20s to come.