Natalia Kanem

Natalia Kanem

Following is the address by Dr Natalia Kanem, the United Nations Population Fund’s executive director, to mark World Population Day which was observed on Thursday.

Women have a right to make their own decisions about whether, when and how often to become pregnant. That right was reaffirmed in 1994 in Cairo at the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), where 179 governments agreed that sexual and reproductive health is the foundation for sustainable development.

In Cairo, we imagined a future in which every pregnancy is intended because every woman and girl would have autonomy over her own body and be able to choose whether, when and with whom to have children.

We imagined a world where no woman would die giving life because—no matter her location or socioeconomic or legal status—she would have access to quality maternal health care.

We imagined a time where everyone would live in safety, free from violence and with respect and dignity, and where no girl would be forced to marry or have her genitals mutilated.

Since 1994, governments, activists, civil society organisations and institutions such as UNFPA, have rallied behind the Programme of Action and pledged to tear down barriers that have stood between women and girls and their health, rights and power to chart their own futures.

Yet, despite considerable gains over the past 25 years, we still have a long way to go to live up to the promise of Cairo. Too many continue to be left behind. Too many are still unable to enjoy their rights.

More than 200 million women and girls want to delay or prevent pregnancy but don’t have the means. And it is the poorest women and girls, members of indigenous, rural and marginalised communities, and those living with disabilities, who face the greatest gaps in services.

It is time to act now, urgently, to ensure that every woman and girl is able to exercise her rights. With greater contraceptive options, they can prosper as equal partners in sustainable development.

The cost of inaction is simply too high: more women and girls dying, more unintended pregnancies, more unsafe abortions, more pregnant girls shamed out of school, the potential of individuals and societies squandered.

There is no time to waste. Our future depends on it.

At UNFPA, we are working with countries and partners to deliver on the world we imagined 25 years ago. Our sights are firmly set on achieving three zeros by 2030:

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• zero unmet need for family planning;

• zero preventable maternal deaths; and

• zero gender-based violence and harmful practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation.

High-quality data will help us zero in on where the needs are greatest and end the invisibility of those furthest behind.

At a summit to be convened by Denmark, Kenya and UNFPA in Nairobi this November, the international community will have an opportunity to recommit to the promises they made in Cairo and transform the world we imagined in the ICPD Programme of Action into a reality for every woman and girl. The summit will draw heads of state, thought-leaders, civil society organisations, young people, international financial institutions, private sector representatives and thousands of others who have a stake in the ongoing pursuit of sexual and reproductive health for all. We all have a stake in this.

I call on all of us—on governments, civil society, communities, and people from all sectors and walks of life—to be bold and courageous, to do what is right for women and girls around the world, to make real the possibilities that come with completing the unfinished business of Cairo. Usher in a world where promises made are promises kept, and reproductive rights and choices are a reality for all. This is the world we all want and can have if we join together in Nairobi and beyond with concrete commitments and far more resources to complete the journey we began 25 years ago.

Women and girls cannot wait. Countries and communities cannot wait. The time to act on promises made and to deliver on family planning is now.

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