The Commission on Population and Development ended its fifty-fifth session today, approving by consensus a draft resolution urging support for women, young people and other marginalized groups in efforts to achieve sustained and inclusive economic growth.
Praised by many delegates as particularly relevant in the wake of the devastating coronavirus pandemic, the text — “Population and sustainable development, in particular sustained and inclusive economic growth” (to be issued as document E/CN.9/2022/L.6) — the Commission reaffirmed the Programme of Action adopted at the landmark 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, and called upon Governments to take concrete measures towards its full and effective implementation. It recognized that sustainable, inclusive, sustained and equitable economic growth are essential for eradicating poverty and hunger, particularly in developing countries, and for combating inequality within and among nations.
Reaffirming that intergenerational solidarity is fundamental to an inclusive and just society for all ages, the Commission further emphasized the need for full and productive employment and decent work, investments in inclusive and quality education and health care, and efforts to foster healthy ageing. It urged States to scale up efforts to accelerate the transition of women from informal to formal employment, including access to decent work, equal pay for work of equal value, improved wages, social protection policies and accessible, affordable and quality social service, such as childcare.
In brief closing remarks, Commission Chair Enrique A. Manalo (Philippines) noted that the session explored the critical linkages between population and sustainable development at a time when such issues are highly relevant, as the world seeks to recover from the impacts of COVID-19. Its work will provide valuable inputs to the Economic and Social Council’s High-Level Political Forum in July, while the many reports prepared for the session “have provided us all with much food for thought,” he said.
Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), welcomed the adoption of a “meaningful, action-oriented resolution” that will be significant to the multitudes of women and girls who look to the Commission to improve their lives and livelihoods. Noting that delegations rallied together to adopt a balanced text that reflects the importance of sustainable development and inclusive societies, she highlighted its focus on the gendered dimensions of inclusivity, including with respect to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. The rights, health and well-being of individuals — especially women and girls — are at the heart of the international community’s collective aspirations for sustainable development, she said, calling on delegates to accelerate the implementation of the Cairo Programme of Action and fulfil the collective vision of a future of rights and choices for all.
John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division in the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, delivered remarks on behalf of Under-Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin, applauding the Commission for demonstrating once again that “it is able to muster the knowledge, evidence and political will needed for the United Nations to advance the international agenda on population”. Looking back at the rich and substantively engaging session, he said it highlighted the crucial importance of strengthening investments in social protection and developing human capital across the life course.
Several delegates spoke in explanation of position on the resolution.
France’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, welcomed the consensus adoption, noting that the text provides important guidance on ways to address gender inequality, improve young people’s participation and guarantee access to sexual and reproductive services. Expressing disappointment that the persistent disparity among Member States prevented more ambitious progress on some essential issues, she nevertheless reaffirmed the bloc’s determination to uphold the right of every person to exercise full control over their sexuality. She also highlighted the need for universal access to education, including sexual and reproductive health education.
New Zealand’s representative, also speaking on behalf of Canada and Australia, welcomed the consensus at a time when the world is trying to recover from COVID-19, address climate change and come to terms with the impacts of the Russian Federation’s premeditated, unjustified and unprovoked attack on Ukraine. However, for too many years, members have seen negotiations break down over differences in position on key concepts, he emphasized, citing the need to address multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, and the need to recognize and empower women and girls in all their diversity. He expressed regret that those concepts — well understood and accepted by Member States in United Nations forums — were once again excluded from this year’s resolution.
Indonesia’s representative, pointing out his country’s standing as the fourth most populous in the world, welcomed the inclusion of the issues that matter most to its population, such as education, health and protection of migrant workers. Indonesia will implement the resolution in accordance with its national priorities, he pledged, emphasizing that the Commission must focus on issues that unite rather than divide.
Guatemala’s representative, highlighting the text’s recognition of the positive contributions of migrants to inclusive growth, emphasized the importance of safe and orderly migration, with full respect for human rights. However, he expressed reservations regarding preambular paragraph 22 and operative paragraph 21, noting that there is no international consensus on the interpretation of “reproductive rights”. The right to abortion or to abortive practices contravenes Guatemala’s national laws, he stressed.
Saudi Arabia’s representative — also speaking on behalf of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar — emphasized that references to health care services and sexual and reproductive rights in preambular paragraphs 16 and 2, as well as operative paragraph 2, must respect national cultures and laws.
Hungary’s representative, associating herself with the European Union, noted that her country has not ratified the “International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families”. Hungary voted against the Global Compact for Migration and does not share the view that migration is the best solution for the labour and demographic problems of destination countries, she added. Migration does not address the challenges of origin countries, she asserted, emphasizing the importance of creating stable and secure conditions which ensure that one can stay in one’s homeland in peace and prosperity. Dissociating herself from operative paragraph 14, she said Hungary interprets the terms “sexual and reproductive health” and “reproductive rights” in the context of the 2030 Agenda and in line with its national legislation.
Egypt’s representative said his delegation’s positions on preambular paragraphs 2 and 16, and operative paragraph 21, reflect Egypt’s national laws, and are based on the Cairo Programme of Action itself, he said.
Mexico’s representative expressed surprise that the Commission was unable to adopt a resolution that is closer to the reality facing populations on the ground. Citing some of the text’s positive elements — including special attention to vulnerable groups and references to healthy ageing — she expressed regret that it does not include language agreed in previous multilateral meetings. “This is discouraging,” she said, describing the resolution’s failings as a “missed opportunity” to address the real needs of women, children and migrants, in particular. She also regretted the exclusion of references to comprehensive sexuality education based on scientific evidence.
Israel’s representative said inclusive growth will not be possible without addressing the pandemic’s lingering impact on access for women and girls to sexual and reproductive rights. She expressed regret that persistent differences among Commission members prevented a more ambitious outcome.
The representative of the United States, highlighting the United Nations system’s increasing use of the term “illicit financial flows”, expressed concern about the lack of an agreed international definition of that term. She emphasized that trade language negotiated or adopted by the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council — including calls to adopt approaches that may undermine incentives for innovation such as technology transfer that is not both voluntary and mutually agreed — has no relevance to her country’s trade policy or to the agenda of the World Trade Organization (WTO). She added that the right to development is not recognized in any of the core human rights conventions and lacks an internationally agreed meaning.
The United Kingdom’s representative expressed disappointment that a more ambitious outcome could not be reached, while pointing out that the text does not acknowledge the economic exclusion of those facing multiple forms of discrimination. Noting that the right to comprehensive sexual and reproductive education is also missing from the text, she emphasized that whereas consensus is vital, the international community must also make progress on essential issues.
Iraq’s representative said the resolution contains several terms and expressions that his country interprets in line with its national laws. He added that Iraq’s position on sexual and reproductive health and rights is aligned with the Cairo Programme of Action.
Iran’s representative said his country joined the consensus on the understanding that implementation of the text must be guided by respect for national laws and specific cultural contexts. Moreover, he said, references to sexual and reproductive health and rights shall not be construed as precedent for future consideration of those subjects, he stressed.
The Russian Federation’s representative described the outcome document as balanced, saying it adequately responds to the many challenges facing people on the ground. He said operative paragraph 2 concerning the sovereign rights of States to implement the text in line with national laws and cultural contexts enabled consensus. Regrettably, however, the text fails to address the role of the family as the basic unit of society, he said. The Russian Federation is also concerned about the term “sexual and gender-based violence” in preambular paragraph 6 and operative paragraph 20, and “marginalized communities” in preambular paragraph 7, he added, emphasizing operative paragraph 13 can be interpreted only with full respect for the rights of parents and guardians. He went on to reject attempts to use the Commission to impose clearly “dubious and controversial concepts”, as well as comments directed by several delegates at the Russian Federation.
Yemen’s representative said the everything in the text regarding reproductive and sexual health and rights must be viewed in tandem with national legislation.
Lebanon’s representative said that societies cannot progress if gender inequality is not achieved or if certain forms of discrimination are not addressed.
Nicaragua’s delegate, while describing the resolution as balanced, expressed concern about the paragraphs referring to sexual and reproductive rights. Noting that those references do not enjoy intergovernmental consensus and cannot be interpreted as support for abortion as a family planning method, he stressed the sovereign right of every country to regulate domestic legislation on those matters.
An observer for the Holy See welcomed the resolution’s inclusion of many positive elements, while expressing regret that its impact is weakened by terms that are controversial and not universally agreed, especially in relation to health care and the manifold challenges facing women and girls. Expressing regret that it was not possible to reaffirm the role of the family as the basic unit of society, entitled to comprehensive support, he said the Holy See views the terms “sexual and reproductive health care” and “reproductive rights” as applying to a holistic concept of health which embraces the entirety of an individual person, and fosters the achievement of sexual maturity in line with moral norms. It does not view access to abortion or abortifacients as part of those terms, he emphasized. On family planning, he said there is no change to the Holy See’s position regarding methods or services that the Catholic Church does not find acceptable. He went on to underline the Holy See’s view that the term “gender” is grounded in two biological sexes — males and females.
In other business, the Commission approved, by acclamation, a draft decision titled “Cycle for the review and appraisal of the implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development” (document E/CN.9/2022/L.3). By its terms, the Economic and Social Council would decide that the Commission on Population and Development shall revert to its traditional five-year cycle.
The Commission also approved, by acclamation, the draft report of its fifty-fifth session (document E/CN.9/2022/L.5), which outlines procedural aspects of the week-long session.
Acting again without a vote, the Commission approved the draft provisional agenda for its fifty-sixth session, to be held in 2023 (document E/CN.9/2022/L.2).
Members also approved, by acclamation, a draft decision titled “Special theme for the fifty-seventh session of the Commission on Population and Development” (document E/CN.9/2022/L.4). By its terms, the Economic and Social Council would decide that the theme for the fifty-seventh session, to be held in 2024, would be “Assessing the status of implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and its contribution to the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development during the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”.
Briefly opening the fifty-sixth session, the Commission elected Gheorghe Leucă (Republic of Moldova) to serve as Chair. It elected Edgar Sisa (Botswana) and Sarah Linton (Australia) as Vice-Chairs, while Vice-Chairs from the Asia-Pacific States and the Latin America and Caribbean States will be elected at a later date.