Last week the governments of Kenya and Denmark, together with UNFPA, hosted the Nairobi Summit, acknowledging the long, hard journey we have had since the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). The aim of this high-level event was to mobilize governments, civil society organizations, donors, activists and everyone in-between to make political commitments, allocate sufficient funding towards ICPD-related projects, and present successful practices and approaches from our local, and regional contexts towards implementing the ICPD Programme of Action, adopted by 179 countries back in 1994.
Already described as a historical event by many, the Summit provided space to meet new allies and catch up with old ones, to have fun, and mourn when needed, but most importantly, it harnessed discussions on new, innovative ways of meeting the vast need for family planning services and information, as well as eradicating preventable maternal deaths and sexual and gender-based violence, including harmful practices against adolescent girls, and women. “Zero is the only acceptable number” was one of those phrases you would hear repeatedly, but it begs for the question – how achievable is it, really? And while the summit did manage to “re-new and re-energize” the global SRHR community, as noted by the UNFPA Executive Director Dr Natalia Kanem, the reality of those of us travelling back to our communities is vastly different.
Topics related to sexual and reproductive health and rights, such as comprehensive sexuality education, abortion and access to contraception, even if legal on paper, remain stigmatized in many of our countries and often pose serious, life-threatening dangers to activists and those grassroots organizations that dare to advocate for them. And while the strong linkage between grassroots work and accelerating the ICPD agenda was established during the summit, we still need the necessary funds and support to truly empower and engage the local community, implement programs and raise awareness.
So how can we ensure that the 1 200 public and private commitments made last week actually get implemented? Well, for starters, we need to invest in young people and trust, that they know what is best for their bodies, health and communities. We must also ensure a bottom-up approach, empower community leaders and fund LGBTQI+ led, youth-led, refugee/asylum seeker-led initiatives. We must ensure space for indigenous communities and people with disabilities at the decision-making table and engage marginalized communities fully, meaningfully and respectfully.
What can never be stressed enough is that sexual and reproductive health is first and foremost a human right; and unless discussed within a human rights framework, we can never ensure it being accessed by those who need them the most. We all have our roles to play in accelerating the progress, and now’s the time to stay accountable. The truth is, we need more action – more feminist action because that is the only way we can actually reach those left furthest behind.
This opinion piece was provided by Sophie Beria, a Georgian activist, Chairperson of YouAct, the European Youth Network on Sexual and Reproductive Rights, and member of Real People, Real Vision – a Georgian member organisation of ASTRA Network. Sophie attended the Nairobi Summit on ICPD+25 as part of the Georgian Delegation, with the financial support of UNFPA Georgian Office. All opinions expressed in this article are entirely her own.