BERLIN, Germany – Four hundred delegates from 130 countries released a final version of the “Berlin Call to Action” this morning after two days of discussion at the NGO Forum on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Development that is following up on the historic International Conference on Population & Development held in Cairo, Egypt 15 years ago.
After long and sometimes heated discussions, the delegates “demand” that donors and governments accelerate implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action “as fundamental to achieving equality and equity, human rights and social and economic development.” They urged the following actions to be taken immediately (the Call to Action language is in bold; my comments are italicized):
- Guarantee that sexual and reproductive rights, as human rights, are fully recognized and fulfilled. This reflects the delegates’ desire to go beyond the realm of public health and position sexual and reproductive rights as fundamental human rights.
- Invest in comprehensive sexual and reproductive health (SRH) information, supplies and services as a priority in health system strengthening. The new idea here is to acknowledge the fact that the current aid architecture emphasizes health system strengthening and the delegates belief that associating SRH with health systems can help our cause.
- Ensure the sexual and reproductive rights of adolescents and young people. Approximately 25% of all of the delegates were under the age of 30 and the focus on youth was a recurring theme of the conference. Jill Greer, chair of the Steering Group, said that it was vital that the movement develop new leaders for the future.
- Create and implement formal mechanisms for meaningful civil society participation in programs, policy and budget decisions, monitoring and evaluation. The message here is that governments have to bring civil society organizations to the table as meaningful partners.
- Ensure that donor contributions and national budgets and policies meet the needs of people for sexual and reproductive health and rights. This financial aspect was enhanced considerably from the earlier draft and reflects the delegates’ recognition that their lofty visions will not be realized without the financial resources to carry them out.
In presenting the text to the delegates this morning, Sivananthi Thanenthiran, a co-chair of the Steering Group, recognized that the most intractable hurdle to overcome in finalizing the text was the split between those who preferred ICDP language, and those who preferred the language of the Millennium Development Goals, which was the focus of my blog yesterday (see below). “We have positioned ourselves in the middle,” said Ms. Thanenthiran. “We want to move beyond Cairo and leverage the MDGs.”
Another key issue was toning down the rhetoric because of the fundamentalism of many countries where the legitimacy of governments is based on religion. To overcome this, the Drafting Committee tried to find language that would not offend.
Finally, the drafters made a conscious decision not to mention every marginalized group that would benefit from this program of action. Ms. Thanenthiran said the Drafting Committee did this both to keep the document as short as possible and not to offend any group that might me left out inadvertently. This obviously caused distress from some who wanted their particular group singled out for attention.