After Nairobi: A Post-Summit Analysis

This event focused on legalizing abortion and was sponsored by many abortion rights advocacy groups.

The Nairobi Summit concluded last November, but WYA took some time to dig into the details. We now present this summary of our findings, including important facts about the nature of the events, the views promoted (and excluded), and advice for future events of this nature.

ICPD25 Nairobi Summit Snapshot:

  • Took place November 12-14, 2019, in Nairobi, Kenya
  • Convened by Kenya and Denmark with significant operational and organizational support from the United Nations Population Fund
  • Commemorated the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population & Development (ICPD)
  • Promoted problematic Nairobi Statement, which includes controversial language suggesting abortion is a right
  • Included 139 sessions, many of which focused on controversial policies
  • Over 8,300 attendees, but many pro-life group representatives were not approved
  • WYA has serious concerns about the goals of the conference and its potential impact

Nairobi Summit: A Closer Look at Key Issues

Many of the sessions promoted abortion and other controversial policies and programs.

Meanwhile, the ICPD Programme of Action, which the Summit was commemorating, casts abortion in an unfavorable light and recognizes that abortion policy can only be decided at the national level.

  • Out of the 139 events held during the Nairobi Summit, 70% focused on Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) information, education and services.
    • “Reproductive rights” are widely understood to include abortion, which is not agreed in international law. (Learn more in our white paper on reproductive health.)
  • 35 events specifically focused on promoting SRHR.
    • One of the sessions called SRHR an “essential” element of universal health coverage (UHC).
  • Many also connected this with, or promoted separately, comprehensive sexuality education (CSE). CSE includes content many would consider inappropriate, and is not required by international law (read more in our white paper on sexuality education)
  • Events included:
    • Our Bodies, Our Lives, Our World 1.8 Billion Reasons Why, focused on youth access to reproductive rights and comprehensive sexuality education
    • SRHR Starts at School, focused on providing SRHR services to children through comprehensive sexuality education
    • Unpacking the Politics of Manifestos, focused on helping abortion advocates understand pro-life groups, and characterizing pro-life activists as patriarchal and anti-woman. Sponsors included the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights and Ipas Africa Alliance, an abortion rights advocacy group.
  • A number of groups with UN accreditation that regularly attend UN events and oppose abortion applied to attend but were left “pending” without response, preventing dissenting voices from being present or having a voice.

 

It wasn’t an official United Nations event, but you wouldn’t know it from the event itself.  

UN agencies and staff were heavily involved, including in promoting policies not agreed in international law.

  • The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) sponsored about half of all the sessions held during the Summit, and co-sponsored with other UN agencies and/or civil society organizations another 13% of the events.
  • Natalia Kanem, head of UNFPA, gave remarks at the opening and closing ceremonies similar to statements by representatives of the co-convening governments, Kenya and Denmark. She expressed support for reproductive rights both times. UNFPA claims it does not promote SRHR, but regularly uses this term and partners with abortion rights advocacy organizations.
  • UNFPA promoted the event through official channels, such as its social media accounts, and many countries acknowledged its organizational role.
  • The United Nations and its agencies are supposed to abide by international law, not promote policies which lack consensus.

 

This isn’t just about ICPD and the Nairobi Summit.

Smaller, semi-official events can be used to include problematic terms in future UN documents. This “soft power” can have a big impact when it comes to future negotiations and development aid.

  • Half of the commitments made by countries, UN agencies, and other organizations such as businesses, relate to sexual and reproductive health (42% as part of UHC, 8% in humanitarian contexts)
  • These commitments include those related to foreign aid, including commitments to promote SRHR in development aid—even though many developing countries restrict abortion.
  • Documents like the Nairobi Statement can be “incorporated by reference” into official, negotiated declarations of political will, legitimizing an unnegotiated document that includes terms not agreed in international law, justifying pressure on countries to change their laws related to abortion, CSE, and other topics.
  • Other events can be used in the same way to pressure countries to adopt these policies against their values and culture.

 

Rather than focus on areas of consensus in the carefully-negotiated ICPD Programme of Action, the Nairobi Summit organizers sought to promote SRHR and CSE, and excluded dissenting views. Countries should be wary of participating in events like these in the future, and oppose any attempt to incorporate the Nairobi Statement by reference into official UN documents.