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Time for world leaders to honour 25-year-old promises and renew their commitments on women’s rights, say human rights experts

11 November 2019

GENEVA (11 November 2019) – The international community must prioritise women’s rights to meet the promises and commitments on sexual and reproductive health made at a historic global conference 25 years ago, a group of United Nations human rights experts* has said.

A tremendous amount of work remains to be done to fulfil the ambitious commitments of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) which took place in Cairo in 1994, the experts said.

“We celebrate the important progress which has been achieved. However, 25 years later, we are far from realising the promise of the ICPD agenda,” said the UN experts, in a joint statement published as world leaders gather in Nairobi for a summit to mark the anniversary.

“We call on the international community to reaffirm unambiguously its commitments to fulfil the unfinished agenda of ICPD and increase its political will towards and investment on women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights. We call upon decision-makers to always put women’s and girls’ human rights at the centre of policy considerations and to meaningfully involve women and girls themselves in all decisions affecting them.”

The experts highlighted major achievements including a notable fall of around 38% in the world’s maternal mortality rate between 2000 and 2017.

“Yet still more than 800 women are dying daily from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, many of whom are girls,” the experts said.

Action was also urgently needed on other reproductive rights, they said, despite the generally wider availability of modern contraception and progress on repealing laws criminalising abortion.

“Criminalising termination of pregnancy is one of the most damaging manifestations of instrumentalising women’s bodies and health, subjecting them to risks to their lives or health and depriving them of autonomy in decision-making,” the experts said.

“Twenty-five million unsafe abortions occur each year and some 214 million women are deprived of access to essential modern contraception, often leading to unwanted pregnancies.

“The persistent practice of child marriage in many parts of the world continue to lead to teenage pregnancy and the exclusion of girls from education and employment, hence limiting their enjoyment of many other rights,” the experts added. 

“The push back against women’s rights from religious fundamentalists and political conservatives that oppose women’s rights are particularly acute in the area of sexual and reproductive health and rights. Despite States’ clear human rights obligations in these areas, the strong opposition discourse seeks to retreat from the ambitions of the ICPD agenda, challenging women’s right to equality and relegating a woman’s role to only the family and procreation.

“Without fully respecting and protecting women’s human rights, autonomy and decision-making over their own bodies and lives, we will not achieve the sustainable development goal on gender equality and empower all women and girls.”

The Nairobi summit, from 12-14 November, will be attended by heads of State, government ministers, members of parliament and many other groups and individuals interested in the pursuit of sexual and reproductive health and rights.


*UN experts: Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Ms Rhona Smith, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia; Ms. Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Mr. Saad Alfarargi, Special Rapporteur on the right to development; Ms Daniela Kravetz, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea; Ms Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Ms Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Mr. Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes; Mr. Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Mr.Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Ms Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; Mr. Obiora C. Okafor, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity; Mr. Javaid Rehman, Special Rapporteor on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran; Ms Alice Cruz, Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy; Mr. Felipe Gonzalez Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants; Ms Rosa Kornfeld-Matte, Independent expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons; Mr. Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967; Mr. Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Ms E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Ms Maud De Boer-Buquicchio, Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children; Mr. Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Independent Expert on Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; Ms Urmila Bhoola, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Mr. Bahame Tom Mukirya Nyanduga, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia; Ms Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and Ms Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.

The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact:
Ms Federica Donati (+41 22 9179496 / [email protected])

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact:
Mr. Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])

Follow news on all the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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