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UNFPA Nairobi Summit on ICPD 25: Accelerating the Promise
Fulfilling the Cairo Promise in a Fragile World
Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Nairobi, 13 November 2019

Your Royal Highness,

Prime Minister Hamdok,

Distinguished panellists,


Colleagues and Friends,

The International Conference on Population and Development has been, quite literally, life-saving. In desperate situations – such as in the context of natural disasters, armed conflicts and health emergencies – the ICPD's recognition of the fundamental need for gender equality, inclusivity and sexual and reproductive health has led to better delivery of crucial services.

Sexual and reproductive health services need to be funded, prioritised, and comprehensively and systematically delivered, throughout preparedness, response and transition stages.  When they are not – and when women and girls continue to face barriers to accessing these services – human rights, and even lives, are at risk.

And today, although the provision of sexual and reproductive health services in emergencies has significantly improved, we are still seeing enormous gaps.

Last year, 136 million people required humanitarian assistance. Of these, 34 million were women and girls of reproductive age – and 5 million were pregnant. Two-thirds of maternal deaths occur in fragile settings: more than 500 deaths every day. In every humanitarian emergency, as Secretary General Guterres has pointed out, "woman and girls are suffering a crisis within a crisis"– and, as the heroic Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege has pointed out "women's bodies have become a true battlefield."

Deepening our concerns, the protracted nature of today's conflicts means that some adolescents and children have never known a life outside of this context of crisis and heightened risk.

Providing emergency assistance is a complex and often dangerous business, involving hard choices and challenges. But human rights should never be viewed as secondary concerns or as abstract, unattainable ideals. There is nothing abstract at all about a woman's need for medical services after rape, or another's urgent request for contraceptives to prevent unintended pregnancies. Upholding the rights of every woman and girl to sexual and reproductive health is a matter of basic human dignity.

Yes, at times this will require us to challenge our narrowly defined categories of intervention and funding: development or humanitarian work; inside of camps or outside them; whether or not the woman in question has experienced violence, has legal status, and so on. These categories can lead inadvertently to losing sight of the individual and her experiences, views and needs.

States affected by disaster and donor States, can help to overcome these divisions, and meet our global commitments on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

All of us – States and humanitarian actors -- need to work to overcome these siloes and divisions.

We need to build on the increasing recognition that approaches based on human rights will strengthen health systems and the delivery of services – generating a cascade of benefits for women and entire communities.

We also need to insist on comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights services – which include access to safe abortion, and availability of a wide range of contraceptive methods, emergency contraception among them.

Furthermore, women and girls must be able to claim their rights, and to hold us accountable. We need to empower them to speak; ensure they can speak safely; and above all, we need to listen to what they tell us. Every woman is entitled to participate in decisions that affect her life – particularly when it concerns something as personal as sexual and reproductive health.

And let's remember that it was women human rights defenders who led the struggle to put human rights at the centre of the ICPD talks 24 years ago. From the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh to Ebola-hit areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the devastation in the Bahamas – and including the millions of suffering civilians in Syria, Yemen and so many other humanitarian emergencies – women are still leading efforts to ensure that their communities receive the services they need, with their dignity and rights intact.

The ICPD and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are commitments to put the rights of women and girls at the top of every policy agenda. We need to deliver. That means putting the protection of women's rights – including their sexual and reproductive health and rights - at the heart of our agenda –including in situations of conflict, instability, displacement, environmental disaster and humanitarian emergency.

Thank you.