Speakers addressing the Commission on Population and Development urged Governments to enact more robust social protection schemes across the human life cycle — aimed at helping young people, women and members of marginalized social groups achieve their full productive potential — as the body continued its fifty-fifth session today.
During an expert panel discussion, academics and United Nations system officials weighed questions around the nexus of policy and population trends. Citing demographic shifts in different parts of the world, they noted that people of all ages need more support, should countries hope to lift them out of poverty and harness their potential as active and productive citizens. That is particularly true in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which panellists said has destroyed 200 million jobs and orphaned an estimated 10 million children worldwide to date.
Lucie Cluver, Professor of Child and Family Social Work at the University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Social Intervention, agreed that COVID-19 has decimated families and damaged the lives of children and adolescents, which can have profound impacts for years to come. Citing evidence showing that social protection programmes can have multiple long-term impacts and is a key accelerator for inclusive growth, she said cash transfers, in particular, can bring multiple benefits for adolescents — including improved health and education and reduced violence. Moreover, national Governments have shown they can deliver “cash plus care solutions” that not only protect vulnerable adolescents, but also act as a springboard for economic recovery, she said.
Agnieszka Chlon-Dominczak, Vice-Rector for Science and Director of the Institute of Statistics and Demography at Poland’s SGH Warsaw School of Economics, also described social protection as one of the main policies that can help build human capital across the life cycle. It is crucial in early childhood to close gaps in inequality and opportunity, she said. During childhood and adolescence, she added, social protection provides access to education and life skills development, and supports the school-to-work transition. Then in working age, universal social protection programmes can help address the persistence of informal, low-productivity jobs, which remains a critical challenge facing many countries.
In similar vein, Mansour Ndiaye, Global Head of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Inclusive Growth Team, said the global community is largely failing to protect people as it could. Despite immense international and national efforts, social protection coverage remains both insufficient and inadequate, he added. Much also remains to be done towards empowering people to keep moving forward from poverty to prosperity, he said, citing rising unemployment. He called for more investments in quality education and skills development, emphasizing that ending poverty in all its forms requires much more than localized policy interventions — it requires a radical transformation of development models towards greener, diversified and more inclusive economies and societies.
Calls for stronger social protection schemes — and, more broadly, more active State interventions in support of women, girls, the poor and other marginalized groups — also resounded throughout today’s general discussion.
Ghana’s representative said her country is working to harness its demographic dividend by investing in young people she said, adding that the Government has developed a mentoring programme for girls with a view to enhancing women’s economic empowerment and participation in decision making. It also introduced a senior high school initiative to increase access to secondary education for girls and young women living in low-income housing.
A speaker representing the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights called for an end to the “inequality pandemic” that has exacerbated challenges facing women and girls around the world. She noted that health-care privatization regimes left health systems wholly unprepared, while sexual and reproductive health facilities were converted to COVID response facilities or had to suspend their services. Emphasizing that Member States must recognize sexual and reproductive health and rights as a critical element of sustainable development and inclusive growth, she said they must ensure access to universal health care coverage and to publicly funded social protection schemes, eradicate gendered pay gaps and implement progressive tax regimes.
A speaker representing Soroptimist International declared: “Providing education and training opportunities is one of the most powerful actions we can take.” As part of social protection programmes, education and skills training can help the inclusion of, in particular, women and girls in employment, a key element of promoting sustainable economies, she noted. Noting that the world of work is changing at a rapid pace, she emphasized the essential need that women and girls have access to technology and training opportunities to acquire the skills they need to compete in the workplace.
Also participating in the discussion were Mercedes d’Alessandro, Economist, Researcher and former National Director of Economy, Equity and Gender in Argentina’s Ministry of Economy of Argentina; and Roman Hoffmann, Research Scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna, Austria.
Participating in the general discussion were representatives of Nicaragua and Bolivia.
The Commission also heard from speakers representing the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS.)
It also heard from the following non-governmental organizations: International Federation for Family Development, Rutgers, Civil Society for the Family (C-FAM), International Sexual and Reproductive Rights Coalition, International Catholic Committee of Nurses and Medical Social Workers, Advocates for Youth, International Federation of Medical Students’ Association, World Youth Alliance, Global Helping to Advance Women and Children, China Family Planning Association, Asociación Colectivo Mujeres al Derecho, Family Planning NSW, Haiti Cholera Research Funding Foundation, Inc. USA, Swasti, ACT Alliance-Action by Churches Together, and the FEMM Foundation.
The Commission on Population and Development will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 28 April, to continue its work.
Ms. APPIAH (Ghana) said that in 2021, her country’s housing census revealed a further decline in the fertility rate and a growing ageing population, while the teenage pregnancy rate remained unchanged, thereby illustrating the need to harness Ghana’s demographic dividend through investment in youth. She said the Ghana National Household Registry, established to improve the targeting of social protection interventions for the vulnerable in times of emergency, has been completed. Ghana has also developed a mentoring programme for girls to enhance women’s economic empowerment and participation in decision-making. On education, it introduced a senior high school initiative to increase access to secondary education for those living in low-income housing, particularly girls.
JAIME HERMIDA CASTILLO (Nicaragua) said the so-called unilateral coercive measures are simply aggression against his country’s sovereignty and its people. Their imposition must cease in order to promote development and inclusive economic growth, he asserted, noting that lifting the sanctions will free resources to let people have food and improve sustainable agriculture. It will particularly benefit women, children, workers and those who live in rural areas and historically marginalized areas. He went on to state that the Government has implemented successful social programmes that are internationally recognized and meet the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Yet as a developing country, Nicaragua still faces many challenges, he said, vowing, however, that it will keep implementing the 2030 Agenda and the National Plan to Fight Poverty and for Human Development 2022-2026.
DIEGO PARY RODRÍGUEZ (Bolivia) emphasized the need for multiple approaches in order for recovery to occur, pointing out that many developing countries face a dilemma: whether to prioritize implementation of the 2030 Agenda or to service their debt. He stressed the need to promote more sustainable patterns of production and consumption. Recalling that delegations presented voluntary national reports to the High-Level Political Forum in 2021, he said Bolivia is implementing tangible steps to reduce poverty and inequalities while increasing basic services.
SARAH CRAGGS, International Organization for Migration (IOM), described migration as a core development consideration as the world experiences complex demographic shifts. Noting that well-managed migration can be a development strategy and a development outcome, she said international migration has garnered significant collective attention in recent years, but bold collective action is still needed. By embracing a future of human mobility that rests on safe, orderly and regular migration, the international community can reduce inequalities and help advance the new social contract proposed in the Secretary-General’s report Our Common Agenda, she said. That would be the key accelerator of recovery from COVID-19 and of strengthening the resilience of economies and societies to future external shocks, he added. Governments should harness the positive power of migration in their respective demographic, social and economic contexts as an opportunity to fast-track realization of the Sustainable Development Goals, he urged. IOM is coordinating system-wide efforts through the United Nations to advance the realization of the Global Compact for Migration to support the 2030 Agenda, he noted. While anticipating that the Commission’s outcome will include key considerations on migrants, the first International Migration Review Forum, to be held in New York in several weeks, will assess implementation of the Global the Compact, he said. It is an opportunity for the international community to reinforce the Compact’s role and the power of multilateralism to leverage action for sustainable and inclusive growth, he added.
Mr. NÚÑEZ, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said inclusive economic growth must create employment opportunities for all those of working age, including people living with HIV or at risk of contracting it. Noting that most people living with HIV are of working age and can, with proper treatment, live productive working lives, he declared: “It is a moral and economic imperative to close the HIV treatment gap.” Concerning workplace stigma, he cautioned that discrimination can lead to people being fired merely for disclosing their HIV status, stressing that a workplace free of stigma and discrimination will promote the livelihoods those living with HIV and their communities. On gender equality, he said women and girls bear a disproportionate toll owing to discrimination and violence. He went on to say that UNAIDS, alongside other United Nations agencies, has launched an initiative to use secondary education as an entry point to help girls make decisions about their sexual and reproductive health.
Mr. VÁZQUEZ, International Federation for Family Development, said the organization is involved in preparations for the thirtieth anniversary of the International Year of the Family, including a civil society declaration on behalf of an alliance of non-governmental organizations. He said urban families must be at the centre of interrelated public policies for sustained and inclusive economic growth and outlined several recommendations to that end. For example, it is critical to implement industrial relations policies for active employment, including adequate minimum wages; enact demographic policies focused on the decisions of individuals to become parents; provide education aimed at helping families become good educators, and link labour-market needs to educational opportunities for the unemployed; and guarantee social services such as schools, meeting places, sports facilities and cultural places.
Ms. VAN DEN DUNGEN, Rutgers, said her country has one of the lowest numbers of adolescent pregnancies in the world thanks to comprehensive sexuality education in most schools. Parents also speak openly about sexuality and family planning is widely available, she added. Comprehensive sexuality education is a proven intervention that benefits young people’s health and well-being, she said, adding that, by investing in it, countries can contribute to their human capital. She went on to say that women who have gone to school are more likely to marry later, use family planning and access health care. In contrast, child marriage and adolescent pregnancies interrupt school attendance and impairs young women’s long-term social and economic mobility, he noted. Sexuality education also helps to prevent gender-based violence by promoting gender equality, nonviolence and non-discrimination as well as skills to build healthy relationships, she said.
Mr. GENNARINI, Civil Society for the Family, said the Commission’s theme presents a unique opportunity “to think beyond the same old tired controversial debates about sexual mores or sexual and reproductive health”, in which members have been mired too many times in recent years. Today, alarmingly, low-fertility and ageing pose new and overlooked challenges. “Put simply, without population growth there can be no sustained economic growth,” he said, noting that for many decades experts have focused on reducing fertility in developing countries by promoting contraception, abortion and a small family norm. Sadly, the demographic dividend has not materialized everywhere, including in some of those developing countries. Many societies will grow old before they have a real chance to develop, leading fiscal and social protection systems to the brink. Protection of the family, in line with the obligations of Member States under international human rights law, is a necessary component of the population policies needed to achieve economic growth that is sustained, sustainable and inclusive. “The time is now to change course … perhaps we can change things before it is too late,” he said.
Mr. NADEEM, Advocate for Youth, delivered a statement on behalf of International Sexual and Reproductive Rights Coalition (ISRRC), saying that gender equality, women and girls’ empowerment and rights, and sexual and reproductive health and rights cut across the three central dimensions of sustainable development. Unpaid housework and direct care remain significant contributors to national economies and must be included in measuring economic growth, as well as in redistributing responsibilities for care and housework between individuals, he said. Governments should support women’s access to decent work, ensure universal social protection, collect and utilize robust disaggregated data on national economic activity, and enact laws and policies that ensure the participation of women and girls in the formal economy, he added.
The representative of International Catholic Committee of Nurses and Medical Social Workers called for more investments in education and jobs for the nursing profession. Noting that populations are ageing globally, they said developed high-income countries have low population growth while developing countries have expanding populations, which leads to production and consumption imbalances. They went on to declare that health education focused on fertility is paramount, emphasizing the importance of adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights since everyone has the right to life. Pointing out that societies are moving towards greater urbanization, they warned that urban centres become pockets of concentrated poverty that increase the risks of disease and environmental harm.
Ms. MANSUR, Advocates for Youth, noting that more than 42 per cent of the world’s population is currently under the age of 25, recalled that the Cairo Programme of Action recognizes the right of individuals to decide the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, free of discrimination, coercion and violence. She said much is left to achieve on that front for young people, women, girls and marginalized groups, pointing out that only 40 per cent of all young people have accurate information to help them protect themselves against adverse effects on their sexual and reproductive health. That can dampen economic growth, limit the participation of women and girls in the formal economy, exacerbate inequality, limit access to education and negatively impact sustainable development, she cautioned, calling for action on youth empowerment and education, such as comprehensive sexuality education, and for efforts to reduce barriers and create structured opportunities for young people to practise decision-making and other critical life skills.
Ms. SZIMUS, International Federation of Medical Students’ Association, said the road to empowerment of all population groups lacks evident and specific plans for a multisectoral approach that would reflect the role of all key stakeholders, including, but not limited to, Governments, civil society, public sectors, market and family networks in ensuring a better and healthier world for all by all. He noted that COVID-19 exacerbated several existing inequalities, in addition to creating new inequalities that are further hindering progress towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, thereby highlighting the urgent need for inclusive dialogues with all key partners, including youth. Such a dialogue, he added, should reflect on the pandemic, the lessons learned and potential actions plans for prevention, preparedness and response, not only for future pandemics, but also for the social, economic, environmental and commercial determinants of health that are jeopardizing the health and well-being of billions of people worldwide.
Ms. PIECUCH, World Youth Alliance, emphasized that young people, having spent two years in a global pandemic, want leaders to accord greater respect to human dignity. In 2017, she recalled, the World Youth Alliance launched its Human Dignity Curriculum for children ages 5-18, which seeks to instil a context for personal identity and worldview. A second priority is promoting thriving families as the core unit of society. “This is why it is concerning to see the fertility rates of over half of the countries in the world drop below replacement levels over the past few years,” she said, calling for family-friendly societies that will help form individuals who will ultimately make development sustainable and economic growth inclusive. A third priority is an economy at the service of people, and not vice versa, she stressed, urging policymakers to recognize the human person as much more than just a consumer.
ANNIE FRANKLIN, Global Helping to Advance Women and Children, said that “the family as the basic unit of society contributes to national development and to the achievement of major objectives of every society, including the eradication of poverty, the protection of children, the right to education, the empowering of women and girls, and the creation of stable and secure societies”. Nations have an obligation to place the protection and support of the family at the centre of their development policies, she noted. In addition to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, five binding United Nations treaties also reaffirm that “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society”, she pointed out. The family plays a role in every topic under consideration in the Commission, she stressed.
Ms. MAGUIRE, Soroptimist International, describing that organization as an alliance of groups in 121 countries working with communities to improve the lives of women and girls, said women and girls have experienced higher levels of inequality due to the health, economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Providing education and training opportunities is one of the most powerful actions we can take,” she said, emphasizing that women and girls must be included in order to promote sustainable economies. The world of work is changing at such a fast pace that it is essential that women and girls have access to technology and training opportunities throughout their life course to acquire the skills they need to compete in the workplace. Work patterns and environments must adjust to ensure that women and girls, including those who suffer multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, are equal participants and leaders in the world of work.
Ms. HONG, China Family Planning Association, said that promoting maternal and child health is one of the most important parts of the Sustainable Development Goals. Quality of care, including maternal and child health and family planning services, are critical to eradicating poverty and achieving inclusive and sustained economic growth. The “Healthy China” initiative by the Government of China has achieved effective results in the promotion of a long-term and balanced development of population issues. Her organization has launched a three-year project, “Women and Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Promotion”, in remote mountainous areas. It uses culturally sensitive information and activities designed to promote reproductive health and rights among women and girls to raise awareness about health care, she said, adding that local midwives and service providers have been trained to improve their professional skills and quality services. Digital media and the Internet are utilized to increase access to health information and services. Nearly 90,000 women, children and adolescents have benefited from this initiative, she pointed out.
Ms. ROMERO VILLALBA, Asociación Colectivo Mujeres al Derecho, said that to achieve progress on population and sustainable development — in particular sustained and inclusive economic growth — women, girls and marginalized and isolated communities must be involved. She asked the global community to “seek us, to reach our territories, those furthest from centres of power, generate true dialogues, practices” on development and to “recognize our innovative proposals”. Sustained and inclusive economic growth must include the perspective of women. In the words of the Afro-Brazilian activist Leila Gonzales, the world must move away from “the forms of domination and political ideologies that replicate colonial representations, which produce and reinforce the inequalities of daily life.” There must also be data and indicators that take into account the realities of the rural world, she said, including the realities of rural women and ecosystems.
Ms. BRASSIL, Family Planning NSW, speaking on behalf of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, East and Southeast Asia and Oceania Region, MSI Reproductive Choices and SERAC — Bangladesh, said just and sustainable development cannot be achieved without fulfilling national, regional and global commitments to the sexual and reproductive health and rights contained within the Cairo programme of action, the 2030 Agenda and the Nairobi Summit. Unmet needs for family planning, combined with deeply entrenched gender-based discrimination, leave women and girls shouldering much of the unpaid care responsibility, such as raising children and running families. This limits their access to paid work and economic opportunities. While the use of long-acting reversible contraception is slowly increasing in the Asia-Pacific region, many women still face accessibility difficulties due to economic, structural, cultural and geographical barriers. She called on Member States to consistently implement comprehensive sexuality education, especially within Australia and the Pacific, to ensure all people, particularly youth, develop optimal levels of literacy, including health literacy. She urged Member States to show strength, commitment and leadership to achieve sexual and reproductive health and rights for all, and to invest in long-acting reversible contraception and ensure access to safe abortion.
Ms. ABDULLAHI, Haiti Cholera Research Funding Foundation, Inc. USA, said sustainable development and its relation to the environment and population must be understood. Systems such as the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses, or PRISMA, guidelines and the Recursive Content Abstraction, or RCA, analytical approach can be used to study global population growth and sustainable development. These systems can be used to examine the links between global population growth and the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, she said. It is urgent to bring sustainable environmental policies and renewable concepts into the industry through circular economy models. Poverty and hunger exist at higher levels in countries with higher levels of population growth. She asked Member States and United Nations agencies for financial support to develop the Foundation’s workforce training and development projects and help it create education programmes that will ultimately guide gender equality and equal pay in the Latina community in Florida.
Ms. JOHNS, Swasti Health Catalyst, describing her organization as a member of the Asia Pacific Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, said the core of sustainable development is the fulfilment of sexual and reproductive health and rights for all. Only when women and other marginalized groups have bodily autonomy and can freely make decisions over their own bodies, can true economic empowerment be achieved, she emphasized. Just and inclusive economic growth can only be attained by addressing the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination that unfairly impact women and girls and other marginalized groups — including adolescents and young people, trans and gender-diverse people, migrants and refugees, people living with HIV and sex workers, she asserted.
The representative of ACT Alliance, said the organization is a coalition of more than 135 churches and church-related organizations working in over 120 countries to create sustainable change for poor and marginalized people, regardless of their religion, politics, gender, race or nationality. Gender justice, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, is one of its priorities. As a faith motivated and rights-based alliance, ACT Alliance believes civil society is key to ensuring accountability as policies are developed. Highlighting its recommendations to Member States, he called for the full implementation of the Cairo agenda and its review; the development of national implementation plans to achieve the global goals; and to not regress from language, previously agreed upon, concerning sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights for all.
Ms. AMIN, FEMM Foundation, said her organization, which is dedicated to health education, medical research and improving reproductive health programmes, has developed knowledge-based programmes so women can participate in their own health care and make voluntary decisions based on options, information and understanding. Sustainable development requires addressing the underserved reproductive health needs of women and girls, she said, noting that only about 3 per cent of women and girls understand how to identify the time of their ovulation and few can detect abnormalities in their menstrual cycles. FEMM researchers have developed better diagnostic criteria so medical conditions now treated at the symptomatic level can be treated at the root. For example, they have discovered coronary heart disease and Type 2 diabetes in women have links to abnormal ovulation, followed by irregular cycles. FEMM has created a free app to let women track their observations and symptoms each month. Many menstrual cycle-related problems are not addressed within national healthcare systems and have real consequences on women and girls’ ability to complete their education, to work, plan their families and participate in daily life activities, she said, urging the Commission and Member States to adopt programmes that educate women about their bodies and empower them to take charge of their health.
Ms. SIBUGON, Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights, called for an end to the “inequality pandemic” that has exacerbated challenges facing women and girls around the world. Amid COVID-19, regimes of health-care privatization left health systems wholly unprepared, while sexual and reproductive facilities — including those providing abortion care — were converted to COVID-19 response facilities or had to suspend their services. Against that backdrop, she urged Member States to recognize sexual and reproductive health and rights as a critical element of sustainable development and inclusive growth; ensure access to universal health care coverage and to social protection systems that are publicly funded; ensure equal pay for equal work or work of equal value and protection from gender-based violence in the workplace; mainstream an intersectional, rights-based and gender-responsive approach into all development efforts; and ensure development-oriented trade, progressive tax regimes and sovereign-debt workout mechanisms.