Nairobi Dispatches: Day 1 Opening Ceremony

13 November 2019, NAIROBI—  World Youth Alliance attended the first day of the ICPD25 Nairobi Summit, taking place from 12-14 November. This event, co-hosted by the Government of Kenya, the Ministry of Development Cooperation of Denmark, and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), was organised on the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population & Development (ICPD), which took place in Cairo in 1994.

The Nairobi Summit is a gathering of official representatives of U.N. Member States as well as members of civil society.  However, despite its organization by a U.N. agency (UNPFA), use of U.N. personnel, and connection to agreements adopted at official U.N. meetings, States were told that it is not an official U.N. event. 

The opening ceremony also had a very different tone from regular U.N. events. It featured local media personalities as hosts, drummers and dancers. In one segment, teenage girls with their faces painted each spoke from the audience giving a reason for their participation before going up on stage to sing and dance to Katy Perry’s song “Eye of the Tiger.” Over all, the tone was celebratory and jovial rather than the more sober tone common at intergovernmental meetings. Many attendees took in events with a festive and even triumphant attitude.

Speakers included Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Denmark’s Crown Princess Mary and Minister for Development Cooperation Rasmus Prehn all spoke as co-conveners. President Kenyatta’s statement, in line with requests from civil society leaders, stayed largely within the original ICPD consensus and highlighted efforts and achievements in education and maternal health. Crown Princess Mary spoke about health and education needs, as well as the need for civil and constructive dialogue with those who disagree, while also voicing support for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), which include abortion. 

Minister Prehn spoke about Denmark’s commitment to rights for women and girls, including SRHR, as a priority, and stated that Denmark has increased its funding to 100 million Danish kroner to achieve ICPD goals. (Denmark has in the past characterized contraceptive funding as a way to lower migration, although other European countries rely on it to stave off demographic problems.) He gave what has emerged as a consistent theme in ICPD25 events, which is to “push back on the push back” against abortion rights, and advocated for comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) for youth. 

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed pledged that the U.N. would continue to work to achieve the aims of the Summit, including  SRHR and CSE. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of UNFPA, spoke about the “three zeros” of the Summit, which are: (1) zero preventable maternal deaths; (2) zero unmet need for family planning; and (3) zero violence against women. Throughout her remarks, she echoed terms commonly used by abortion rights advocates, saying, “The reproductive rights of women and girls are not up for negotiation. We shall protect and uphold them. Reproductive rights are human rights and we will not back down.”

A panel followed. Melinda Gates, whose organization the Gates Foundation is a major international donor for contraceptives, described the “unmet need for family planning” (see WYA’s white paper on the topic to learn more about how this term is misused), and said that contraceptives are essential for tackling inequality. Dr. Gita Sen, who was at the original ICPD in Cairo and expressed her conviction that “reproductive rights are human rights” and that SRHR is necessary for the realization of rights. Neil Lomibao, a youth SRHR advocate from the Philippines representing abortion rights fund She Decides described unfortunate instances of child pregnancy and loss of a friend due to an AIDS-related infection. Lina Abirafeh, Executive Director at the Arab Institute for Women, expressed her desire for SRHR advocates to be more proactive and less “reactive” in their “push back on the push back.”

World Youth Alliance will continue to monitor these events and also continue to push back against any expansion on the Cairo consensus.

12 November Event Summaries

More summaries will be added as we complete them. Check back later for updates!

Listen Up, Uganda! Using Social Accountability for SRHR

Sponsors: Kabale Women in Development and Amref Health Africa in Uganda

The session discussed the concept of social accountability (SA) and tools of social accountability to access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) based on the example from a social accountability program in Kabale, Uganda. Mr. Abenet Berhanu, Country Director for Uganda of Amref Health Africa, presented why SA was the necessary action needed to address the lack of access to SRH due to restrictive policies and lack of commitment and absence of legislation. Catherine Kyomugisha, a youth leader from Kabale District, said, “In my community, people believe that only married people who should access SRH services. Thus, leaving out young people and it is our right too. Little attention due to inadequate financing and traditional cultural beliefs of our parents.” The speakers shared the achievements of their SA programs including the collaboration with the government, opening youth friendy corners and additional funding for family planning services to the youth, among others. Aimed to empower participants to actively address policy issues in their own communities, the session concluded with a mock citizen hearing. There were three main groups who were represented namely the youth, government officials, and parents. During the mock hearing, a youth representative said that if she could have prevented her pregnancy at a young age if she only knew that it would be possible to get pregnant after having sex once while one of the representatives from the parents said that they also need modern parenting training from the government if they’re expected to become modern parents. Learn more about CSE by reading WYA’s white paper on sexuality education.


Comprehensive Sexuality Education: A Core Component for Ensuring Universal Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

Sponsors: The CSE Partnership, comprised of UNFPA, Population Council, Rutgers (IPPF member), International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), AfriYAN, and UNESCO

Summary: The event began by impaneling two groups, one youth advocates and one “established” advocates with a moderator posing questions to each before a speed round, framed as a points competition. All the speakers sang the praises of comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), suggesting that it can prevent gender-based violence, sexual harassment, teen pregnancy, etc. However, not a single speaker discussed the content of CSE programs, which many find objectionable and inappropriate for small children. Learn more about CSE by reading WYA’s white paper on sexuality education.


Ending unsafe abortion by 2030: How do we get there?

Sponsors: World Health Organization, Human Reproduction Programme, International Federation of Gynecology & Obstetrics (FIGO), UNFPA, Center for Reproductive Rights, IPPF, Ipas, She Decides, Marie Stopes, Right Here Right Now, International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion, Guttmacher Institute, and ARROW.

Summary: The event clearly focused on legalization as the method of making abortion safe, featuring remarks from policymakers from Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom, as well as a representative from the Irish Family Planning Association, which worked to legalize abortion in Ireland. Most notable were the remarks from the parliamentarian, a doctor from Zimbabwe. She showed a video in which a woman described being a pregnant teen and seeking help to abort from a woman in her community known to provide abortifacient herb mixtures, but then adding battery acid and even crushed glass to the doses she received. However, abortion is legal in Zimbabwe, and it clear that what was most dangerous was the girl’s lack of education. Nevertheless, the parliamentarian described a campaign of hosting mock trials of a woman for procuring an abortion to gain public sympathy for women seeking abortions, and presenting it as an issue of maternal health to fellow policymakers to build support for increasing abortion access and expanding rights. Learn more about maternal health by reading WYA’s white paper.