Investing in Health and Rights

Annalena Flury
East and Southern African Division, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation

17 November 2014-Twenty years after the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in 1994 in Cairo, universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) remains a distant goal. Only through addressing both health and rights will countries be successful in reducing inequalities, in stimulating and sustaining economic growth, and in ensuring environmental sustainability.

The 12th International Dialogue on Population and Sustainable Development, which took place in Berlin on the 5-6 November2014, offered an especially timely opportunity to highlight the importance of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) as central to sustainable development. The objective of the 12th International Dialogue was to identify the key issues emerging from the review process of the ‘International Conference on Population and Development’ and looking forward, how the findings feed into a strategy to ensure that sexual and reproductive health and rights are part of the post-2015 agenda.

Taking stock

The ICPD in 1994 marked a paradigm shift as it focused on people and their needs and rights. For the first time sexual and reproductive health and rights appeared in a document which was signed by 179 UN member states. 20 years later it is time to reflect on the progresses we have made. A summary of the key findings:

  • The ICPD Review process helped to put SRHR on the emerging agenda. The two targets regarding SRHR that are included in the Open Working Group Report (under Health 3.7 and Gender 5.6) are a key success of 2014.
  • Moreover adolescent SRHR and Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) are nowadays less politically controversial and there is a renewed political commitment for ICPD/SRHR.
  •  Participation of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and youth networks in global processes is greater than ever before, nevertheless, it can be even further intensified going forward. This is an important step, as we need to “focus on young people, who are our resources for the future”, as Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA, phrased it.
  • Efforts to improve the quality and accessibility of sexual and reproductive health services since 1994 have led to significant improvements in many SRH indicators, with evidence of stronger government commitments to policy, budgeting and programmes for many of the most pressing sexual and reproductive health goals. More people have received treatments, are living longer and women and child mortality has been reduced by half.
  • Yet, aggregate improvements mask significant inequalities both between and within countries. An alarmingly high proportion of people continue to live without access to sexual and reproductive health services, particularly the poor.
  • New, universal challenges emerge regarding inequalities and the achievement of an equal society. A strong emphasis on disaggregated data be needed to ensure that we reach the poorest and most marginalised.
  • SRHR can only be comprehensively addressed through a multisectorial approach, in particular tackled in conjunction with other issues, such as education, migration, water and sanitation, gender, nutrition etc.

Looking ahead

Approximately 90 international likeminded experts and policymakers working on SRHR and the emerging development framework participated in the 12th Dialogue in Berlin – beside a few representatives of multilateral institutions and governments, most of the participants were representing civil society organisations and youth networks from all over the world. The engagement of all these actors will be required if we want not only to ensure that SRHR is in the new agenda but also that progress is made in the implementation.

Indeed, the achievement of universal access to quality sexual and reproductive health and rights for all demands urgent renewed investments directed towards holistically strengthening health systems, thereby bringing these critical services to where people live. Further, structural inequalities and other barriers to access, including those due to stigma and discrimination, must be addressed to fully ensure the necessary realization of sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.


(Source: ICPD Beyond 2014 Global Review Report)