14 November 2019, NAIROBI—The ICPD25 Nairobi Summit concluded Thursday with great fanfare, but also some controversy. Before the final events commenced, the governments of the Belarus, Brazil, Egypt, Haiti, Hungary, Poland, St. Lucia, Senegal, Uganda, and the United States issued a joint statement outside the conference stating that the Nairobi Summit Statement should not be considered a consensus document or referenced in any future agreements.
It also criticised a lack of transparency and low level of Member State input in crafting the Nairobi Statement, and the inclusion of problematic terminology, including sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) “which may be used to promote abortion.” Speaking on behalf of the eight countries, U.S. delegation lead Valerie Huber went on, “There is no international right to abortion; in fact, international law clearly states that ‘[e]veryone has the right to life.’” (Learn more about international law and policy related to abortion in WYA’s white paper on reproductive health.)
Commitment statements from Member States and other actors continued in the Summit throughout the morning. Many countries committed to positive actions, such as education, reducing maternal mortality, and ending gender-based violence. However, some offered support for SRHR, which is widely understood to include abortion. This included the Dominican Republic, represented by Minister of Women Maria Beltre De Melo, who committed to effective sexual and reproductive rights, despite the country’s near total ban on abortion.
Conversely, St. Lucia, represented by its Minister of External Affairs Sarah Flood-Beaubrun, spoke strongly against the Nairobi Summit Statement. She highlighted how it went beyond the original agreement of the International Conference on Population and Development’s Programme of Action (ICPD), agreed in 1994, lacked transparent processes, and attempts to use other UN agreements and processes to enforce the statement commitments, and stressed the original document’s respect for sovereignty, particularly relating to abortion laws. She concluded, “We therefore… distance Saint Lucia from any outcomes of this conference that undermine life and disrespect our laws and culture.”
Outside the commitments sessions, concurrent sessions continued to focus almost exclusively on abortion (SRHR), contraceptives, and comprehensive sexuality education (CSE). During a policy-maker dialogue focused on the “unmet need for contraception,” John Stover of Avenir Health characterised family planning as a way to save money in the provision of services such as healthcare, not mentioning the financial struggles of ageing countries or the problems with viewing human beings as costs rather than persons. (Learn more about the problems with the concept of an “unmet need for family planning” in WYA’s white paper on family planning.)
An event called Unpacking the Politics of Manifestos featured a presentation by Mr. Neil Datta, Secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, in which he gave an overview of his perception of “anti-gender” activism. He described opposition to abortion, among other things, as regressive and misogynistic. He also named several groups involved in this, including Polish organisation Ordo Juris. When the president of Ordo Juris asked a question during the first question period, the moderator appeared deeply unnerved and requested other questions before deciding to postpone answering any of them. Many pro-life organisations received no responses to their attempts to register for the Summit. WYA is directly aware of fewer than twenty attendees who oppose abortion at an event that hosted six thousand people.
In the afternoon, the Summit concluded with celebrations, including speeches and musical performances. During brief reflections from attendees, Archbishop Antje Jackelen, head of the Church of Sweden, expressed support for SRHR from a religious point of view while also calling for dialogue with those who disagree, a challenge in light of the organisation of the conference to heavily promote abortion through SRHR and the small number of pro-life attendees. The few representatives of pro-life groups present were remarked upon in the closing remarks of Denmark, given by Karen Elleman, Chair of the Danish All Party Parliamentary Group for SRHR. “For example, the push back on providing access to health and services such as safe abortion: if it is illegal it will happen anyway,” she said, continuing “It will happen under unsafe conditions, which can be fatal for the woman.”
This argument, that some people will continue to seek procedures or take actions that carry risks if something is banned, rarely comes up outside of the abortion context. Notably, many countries pledged during the Summit to eliminate female genital mutilation, a harmful practice that carries risk of lifelong health effects or even death. An article published this week in a Kenyan paper stated that laws banning the practice have driven it underground, yet no one is calling to allow it to make it safer.
WYA believes in the equal dignity of all human beings from conception until natural death, and encourages policies and programmes that provide support for all women and girls, including education and healthcare, in order to “eliminate the need for abortion” as stated in ICPD ¶ 8.25, the same paragraph which notes that countries have a right to determine their own laws on abortion. For that reason, World Youth Alliance will continue to monitor and participate in international, national, and local meetings and processes to promote respect for the equal dignity of every human person, and thanks those countries which stand up for these values.
Check back for more details on other concurrent events and statements as we continue to update this page.