NGO Forum Closing Promises New Action on Women's Health and Rights

BERLIN, GERMANY— A global forum held in Berlin put governments and international donors on notice that advocates for women’s health and rights will now be speaking more frankly and pressing more strongly for speedy action, investment and an end to gender-based discrimination.

Speakers at the closing session of the three-day Non-Governmental Organization Forum o­n Sexual and Reproductive Health and Development called upon the 400 delegates from 131 countries to mount public demonstrations to command attention, to promote open discussion of sexual behaviour, and to insist upon scaling up successful programmes of voluntary family planning, comprehensive sex education and maternal and newborn health care.

“Everywhere injustice is driven by silence,” summed up Gill Greer, chair of the Forum steering group and Director-General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

At an earlier news conference, Ms. Greer said NGOs can and should point out, for example, that unsafe abortion is a major cause of death for girls 15-19 in the developing world. Meeting the unmet need for family planning could prevent a third of all maternal deaths, she said, adding that, issues confronting women, girls, young people and marginalized populations “cannot be addressed unless we recognize the realities”.

At the forum’s final session, regional NGO representatives presented the five-point Berlin Call to Action to a group of attending parliamentarians present, who promised to relay it to governments around the world. “We have reignited the spirit of partnership,” said Purnima Mane, Deputy Executive Director of UNFPA, the UN Population Fund, which co-sponsored the conference with the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

Erich Stather, BMZ State Cecretary, noted that the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that dominate the world agenda incorporate key principles of the 1994 International Conference o­n Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action, but that progress lags most o­n MDG 5 (improve maternal health). “Let there be no forgotten MDGs,” he said.

Anand Grover, UN Special Rapporteur o­n the Right to Health, called o­n the delegates to use strong language about sexual behavior in calling o­n governments to guarantee human rights. “If you don’t talk about sex,” he said, “you can’t do anything.” Rights-based approaches to family planning and population needs “actually work,” he said. “This is a message you have to take home.”

At the news conference, Ms. Mane of UNFPA stressed the Forum’s call for renewed financial and human resource commitments to ICPD goals, noting that 75 per cent of the $11.1 billion in 2008 population-related spending went to combat HIV/AIDS. “We need to enlarge the pot and ensure that all areas of sexual and reproductive health and rights are funded,” she said.

Katie Chau of the Youth Coalition, which sponsored a day-long Youth Forum prior to the conference, said that the session had energized the young people present to carry ICPD principles into the next generations. “These issues are linked to environmental concerns and long-term economic sustainability,” she said. “We have made a strong commitment.