Advocating for gender equality at the Commission on Population and Development (CPD51)

ACT delegation at CPD
A few members of the ACT Alliance delegation at CPD51 Photo: Alison Kelly/ ACT

The Commission on Population and Development convened governments, UN agencies, civil society actors, and others to its 51st Session (CPD51) in New York from April 9- 13th. The theme of this year’s Commission was “Sustainable cities, human mobility and international migration”.

Unfortunately, member states were unable to reach consensus on the outcome document as some member states did not want to agree on any clauses that would predetermine the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration currently under negotiation at the UN. This Commission however, saw strong cross-regional collaboration on advancing the issues of migration. Transnational support was expressed from member states that had never before spoken out strongly on these issues.

Action by Churches Together (ACT Alliance) was present at CPD51, with a delegation of ACT members and partners from around the world that are committed to working towards gender equality, and are leading programmes that incorporate sexual and reproductive health care services, advocacy or normative work in their settings. ACT Alliance recognizes that human dignity is a foundation to human rights, and that conceptions of human dignity have historically arisen out of faith and religious traditions. ACT also recognizes that gender equality and access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) is a prerequisite for the enjoyment of all human rights and for poverty reduction.

Access to SRHR which includes access to health care services, information, family planning, etc., is crucial and should be accessible to all regardless of migration status. Globally, there are 32.3 million women refugees, half of them being girls, who are affected disproportionately by emergencies.

Women, children and adolescents, especially girls, face an increased risk of unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, human trafficking, child, early and forced marriage and other forms of sexual and gender based violence, and their needs and rights largely remain unprotected and unengaged. Considering these crucial times of international mobility, it was unfortunate that member states could not reach consensus on all aspects of social protection for all during CPD51.

ACT welcomed the opportunity to engage in CPD51 and to deepen the discussion around religion and SRHR in general, and in particular, in the context of human mobility and migration. ACT Alliance and partners including the World Council of Churches, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), German Justice Commission, and Islamic Relief USA hosted a public side event at CPD51.

The event, “Faith-based approaches to Sexual and Reproductive Health in a Human Rights perspective,” was in line with Sustainable Development Goal 3.7 (SDG 3.7), “by 2030 ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programs.”

The side event facilitated an interactive panel discussion, bringing FBOs from many faith traditions, working on human rights advocacy as well as on development and humanitarian service delivery, together with secular humanitarian NGOs and UN representatives.

Panellists explored the nexus between faith-based actors and sexual and reproductive health, looking at the theological underpinnings and interpretation of sacred texts that defined their approach to SRHR and services. ACT delegates showcased their experiences and perspectives as FBOs on integrating SRHR into their health, youth and other programs.

Last year (CPD50) was the first time that a platform under the CPD hosted an inter-faith event supportive of the rights-based sexual and reproductive health narrative. At CPD50, there was consensus amongst various civil society organizations for increased dialogue around faith and religion-related aspects and SRHR related aspects.

“This side event was a wonderful opportunity to continue the discussion that was started at CPD50. Some participants mentioned that they did not know that progressive faith voices existed,” said Alison Kelly, ACT’s Sustainable Development and UN Representative. “As a faith based organization with religious values at our core, values of dignity, justice, compassion and love for every individual are central to all of our work.”

Under the auspices of the Government of Sweden, ACT Alliance joined the UNFPA and other organizations in hosting a private round table discussion, bringing together FBOs and secular organisations from the Global South working on SRHR on the ground. This unique meeting explored the misconceptions and challenges that are faced in working with each other and the misconceptions that surround both faith and SRHR related items. One of the participants said, “we can harness the positive work of the communities, and remove the toxicity at the global level.”

“I am grateful that we as a faith-based family, and religious leaders were invited to participate in the discussions,” said Bishop Stephen Kaziimba of the Anglican Church in Uganda. “We need to work together in order to help people to live life in its fullness. I remain committed to promote human dignity,” he continued.

In reference to this year’s theme, ACT Alliance recognizes that faith-based organisations (FBOs) have the potential to reach out to and offer security to marginalized communities, including people on the move and those in fragile or rural settings.

“The theme of the CPD this year was crucial as the needs and rights of some of the most marginalized people in the world, particularly migrant women and girls, requires urgent resolution,” said Kelly, reflecting on conversations with the ACT delegation.

Substantive progress is desperately needed in view of the grave human rights infringements and consequences for population policies by the growing numbers of refugees, migrants, and displaced people in the world today.

ACT submitted a Written Statement to the CPD51. A section from the Statement reads, “As faith actors we know of the challenges of religion in ensuring gender equality and the sexual and reproductive health and rights for all. It is however due to the presence and power of faith networks that engaging with faith actors is also crucial.”

The Statement continues, “Faith institutions’ and networks reach the most marginalized communities, where even governments have difficulty in ensuring an institutional presence, sometimes being the only functioning civil society institutions offering security in situations of conflict and fragility. Faith actors are also a diverse network and communities, institutions and leaders can contribute to challenging patriarchal attitudes and practices by promoting gender equality at all levels of society.”

The full Statement is available here.