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A Momentous Global Opportunity
It’s nearly impossible to work in sexual and reproductive health and rights today without hearing the word “Cairo.” Twenty years ago in Cairo, Egypt, 179 governments agreed—for the first time—that ensuring the sexual and reproductive health and human rights of all must be central to global development policies and funding. Women’s rights advocates from across the world—including Regional Director Carmen Barroso—worked hard to achieve this incredible paradigm shift that irrevocably changed international population and development policies.
The Cairo victory caused governments to call for investments in sexual and reproductive health and rights. Steps have been taken to eliminate gender inequalities. Programs promoting family planning emerged. Laws were enacted to prevent gender-based violence. The Cairo Programme of Action took its rightful place upon the global development stage.
Every year the United Nations Commission on Population and Development meets to monitor the strides that have been made since Cairo. Worldwide, there has been a decline in the number of deaths caused by pregnancy and childbirth. More women are choosing the number and spacing of their children. And more young people have access to the sexuality education that can save their lives. Despite this progress, more remains to be done.
For more than sixty years, IPPF and its allies have worked to ensure the goals of Cairo are preserved, strengthened, and expanded. We speak up at global meetings. We serve on our governments’ delegations. We spend late nights negotiating for the rights and services our communities want, need, and deserve.
I came to the Commission on Population and Development this week to make sure the gains achieved over the last 20 years are not only protected, but also built upon. You may find it hard to believe, but there are still governments that object to basic and fundamental human rights like gender equality and access to family planning. I am here to ensure the work started by women's rights advocates like Carmen Barroso in 1994 is not undone in 2014. The work in New York today is as important as it was in Cairo, and we will continue to advance the groundbreaking work they started.
A lot of the time, sexual and reproductive rights advocacy can seem like lonely work. We face the staunch opposition of a vocal minority. We meet with government officials who continue to deny women, men, and young people access to services and information that can change their lives. We face the withdrawal of critical donor funds at the moment we are starting to see real change. Still, we will not back down.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
We have shown what lies behind us—1994, with all its tribulations and exaltations, marked yet another chapter in our ongoing struggle to increase access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.
We have shown what lies before us—the future, with its certain challenges and uncertain outcomes, stands ahead with momentous opportunity.
But what is most impressive is what lies within us—the dedication and perseverance that resound in every trial we confront and every triumph we celebrate.
This is a decisive moment for the future of sexual and reproductive rights. With governments set to create the next global development agenda, the outcome of this week’s Commission on Population and Development meeting is more critical than ever. Fortunately, sexual and reproductive rights advocates have evidence and reason on our side. We also have the allies we need to win this fight. So, let’s go forward with confidence and see this task through!