There’s no place for controversial terms in the SDGs

UN_Albert (GVA)

WYA Advocacy Fellow Albert Mengual advocating on behalf of youth

The UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, who is charged with “advocat[ing] for addressing the development needs and rights of young people,” has proposed several amendments to the zero draft for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He has advocated to include the terms “reproductive rights” and “comprehensive education on human sexuality.” These terms are controversial and are not supported by all young people around the world. Hence, by proposing the inclusion of these terms our official ambassador at the UN is distracting development efforts from the real concerns of the youth, such as education, employment and access to healthcare. His position cannot be considered an official youth position.

The World Youth Alliance, which represents youth from developed and developing countries around the world, cannot accept these amendments. The reference language on these targets should be the same as that in “The Future We Want,” the outcome document of the Rio+20 Conference, on which the SDGs are supposed to be based. These terms are not in that document.

Moreover, “reproductive rights” is interpreted widely differently by Member States, NGOs, and agencies. Some Member States maintain that reproductive rights entail a right to abortion, while others protect the right to life of all people. And some NGOs, including IPPF and the Center for Reproductive Rights, assert that this term includes abortion. There is thus no clear consensus on its meaning, making it an impossible goal to achieve.

Further, no international treaty mentions the term “reproductive rights.” International human rights must be grounded in international treaties; otherwise there is no indication of what they entail and anyone can insert his own understanding of what is included.

Even a caveat limiting “reproductive rights” to its definition in the ICPD Programme of Action does not guarantee a clean interpretation. The ICPD definition is unclear and vague—besides, the ICPD cannot create rights—and has been manipulated to promote abortion.

Likewise, “comprehensive education on human sexuality,” or “comprehensive sexuality education,” has been defined by NGOs like Planned Parenthood to include education on abortion, masturbation, and gender identity and to exclude parental involvement. The emphasis is on youth as purely sexual beings rather than holistic beings. Youth do not want to be reduced to sexuality.

Endeavors to introduce this controversial language take away from the focus on other areas of need. Making “reproductive rights” and “comprehensive education on human sexuality” priorities by enshrining them in the SDGs opens the door to official promotion of controversial and harmful policies and programs, distorting development priorities.