ICPD 25: The way forward to “Accelerate the promise”

Elaine Neuenfeldt, Gender Programme Manager

A blog of Elaine Neuenfeldt, Gender Programme Manager

This year the ICPD summit was held in Nairobi, under the theme of “Accelerating the promise”. The Nairobi statement[1], formulated after six months of global consultations, is a framework for both governments and partners’ commitments and it focuses on the so called three zeros: 1) zero unmet needs for family planning information and services; 2) zero preventable maternal and infant deaths; 3) zero sexual and gender based violence, including early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

One of the focus of the Nairobi summit was a demand for transparency, accountability and monitoring processes. More than 1200 commitments pledged by governments, civil society, International Organisations and the private sector, need strong and principled mechanisms of accountability to ensure that the promise to achieve gender equality and justice moves forward at a faster pace.  The 25 years of the Plan of Action have shown we have made progress, but this is not enough. Sexual and Gender Based Violence is growing –one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime, and the numbers of girls that are married or in an union before even reaching 18 years old is alarming. There is still much work to be done.

Faith-based actors have been strongly engaged in the summit and have proposed recommendations, uniting forces to ensure the realization of the three zeros.

For instance, the interfaith standing committee on economic justice and integrity of creation of Tanzania[2] expressed its commitment to create awareness on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights at the congregation level, incorporating sexual and reproductive health messages in sermons. They also committed themselves to ensure that women, girls, men and boys have access to age-appropriate information and services to adequately protect them from unwanted pregnancies, early and forced marriage, sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS.

Another statement,[3] by All African Council of Churches committed “to provide information and services on family planning/child spacing, to all persons, as is consistent with our faith values; to inform and educate our constituencies to eradicate all forms of sexual and gender-based violence, including child, early and forced marriage, as well as female genital mutilation; to inform and educate our constituencies to eradicate all forms of discrimination against any gender, especially women and girls.”

ACT Alliance engaged with the ICPD 25 process issuing a number of statements from the Latino American Gender Community of practice and endorsed by a considerable number of forums. We have also produced a briefing paper which included ACT’s commitments towards ICPD +25.[4] In line with the General Assembly statement on gender justice, ACT affirmed its commitment to “engage in a continuous dialogue to strive towards a change in societal norms, harmful attitudes about gender roles, including masculinities, reproductive choices, human sexuality, child marriage, and stigmatisation of HIV and AIDS for mutual learning and a better realisation of gender justice and sexual reproductive health rights.”

The statement also affirmed:

“We denounce the trends of fundamentalisms (religious, political and economic) which promote messages that are incompatible with human rights and enable the maintenance of power structures that only serve a few privileged individuals and groups. The Gospel according to Luke urges us to be humble and not to regard others with contempt (Luke 18:9-14). For this reason, we also reprehend all speech and practice perpetrated or condoned by those reinforcing sexist stereotypes that go against women’s rights, sexual diversity, tolerance and love.”

The role we have played in ICPD +25 proves that as a faith-based organization we can act as a prophetic voice, able to ground our policies in our practice. We can provide a a faith perspective that affirms life while recognizing and protecting the dignity to all human beings. As global platform ACT will continue working towards promoting awareness and developing strategies to overcome internal resistance towards sexual and reproductive health and rights. This work entails to reflect and open a dialogue able to provoke change in societal norms and attitudes towards traditional gender roles.

Participating in the summit and in the Commission of Population and Development requires opening a process among ACT Members which is based on dialogue, trust, transparency and shared knowledge.

There are loud voices that use faith to push back on human rights, especially women’s human rights. Other voices use theologies and faith to promote hate and segregating, using biblical texts to suit their fundamentalist strategies.

In that context it is imperative for the alliance to commit promoting women’s rights, bodily integrity and agency and contribute to just and equal relationships.


[1] http://www.nairobisummiticpd.org/content/icpd25-commitments

[2] https://actalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/ICPD-revised-statement-Final.pdf


[4] https://actalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/ACT-statement-of-commitment-towards-ICPD-Nairobi-1.pdf

ACT Alliance co-organizes first formal Faith-Based Side Event at UN Commission on Population and Development

Protecting Bodies – Protecting Rights – Faith Communities and Leaders Enabling Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights

ACT Alliance together with World Council of Churches, UNFPA and the government of Norway co-hosted this official Side Event of the United Nations 50th Commission on Population and Development (CPD 50) in New York on 4 April 2017.

After months of planning the day arrived. To our great joy – the room filled to capacity and people continued to come.  Well over 120 in total. Fortunately there was a good representation of youth in the crowd – so those who didn’t find seats, sat on the floor.

Here are some of my reflections on the event and its implications for ACT:

On matters of gender and sexuality, faith leaders and faith communities are deeply influential in shaping values, attitudes and practices. It is important that we use our faith resources wisely and in ways that affirm life, human dignity and human rights. We recognize that Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights encompasses issues that are highly sensitive for faith communities and that teachings and practices vary within and between religions.

A great success of this Side Event therefore was that we managed to gather different faith perspectives: Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Jewish; theologians, health workers and development practitioners. They helped us to understand some of our blind spots – and also offered very concrete examples of how faith leaders and communities can and do enable sexual and reproductive rights in many different contexts.

Here are some of the learnings and action points that emerged for moving forward:

  • Creating and nurturing spaces for dialogue and knowledge sharing are essential. Majority votes generally don’t work in faith settings and there is much to be gained from consensus –building.  As faith actors, we need to stop asking each other “what” we believe and start asking “why” we believe. Engaging in Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights means grappling with difficult ethical dilemmas and sometimes choosing the greater good over lesser evils.  Moral discernment, critical thinking and willingness to listen to each other are key.
  • It is important to invest in theological reflection. Sometimes we need to go back to the scriptures and not just accept existing interpretations and practices. These practices are often intertwined with cultural practices that may be harmful and out-dated and have nothing to do with what is actually written in scripture.
  • Faith leaders and communities need to embrace human rights agendas as their own. Human dignity is the basis for human rights. Human dignity is central to our faiths.
  • A Christian perspective: Faith based organizations with an agenda for SRHR need to be proactively engaging in moral discernment and not remain comfortable. We need to call out faith leaders when they act in ways that put youth – and in particular girls at risk.
  • A Muslim perspective – Our faith leaders need to be in dialogue with their members and constituencies to better understand their issues and needs.
  • A Jewish perspective – We need to be careful of building fences around laws – and look deeper into the scriptures and how these apply to people’s lives.
  • Language matters.  The words used to name programs, education resources, and other aspects of the work can have a variety of meanings in different cultural contexts.
  • Family planning can be a good entry point for cooperation between FBOs and donors. It is an area of work where it is possible to get some consensus among faith actors on programmatic interventions. A specific recommendation for the future is for donors to earmark funds for FBO family planning initiatives.

ACT Alliance has continued the pilgrimage for gender justice from the Commission on the Status of Women in March to Commission on Population and Development in April. We need to keep the good momentum – and look to continuing the pilgrimage at the UN General Assembly and beyond. Faith leaders and communities are essential to enabling SRHR. And SRHR is essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. SDG 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing) and SDG 5 (Gender Equality) are the first of the 17 SDGs that are up for review – and ACT should be ready to show we are making a difference.


Gwenneth Berge is ACT’s Senior Advisor on Religion and Development