Berlin UNFPA Conference Calls For More “Reproductive Rights” Advocacy

This week in Berlin, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the German government are hosting a meeting that brings together 400 "reproductive rights" activists from across the globe to discuss strategies to push "sexual and reproductive health and rights" – including abortion – at the local, national and international level.

The conference is billed as an event for non-government organizations to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) that was held in Cairo in 1994 and touted as the "world’s most comprehensive blueprint for sexual and reproductive health." Organizers such as Dr. Gill Greer of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) are hoping the Berlin conference will serve as a "clarion call" to activists to reinvigorate the ICPD program of action, which they believe has suffered from a lack of political leadership and financial commitment.

At the opening plenary, panelists from Africa, Latin America and the US reflected on the challenges posed to the agenda since the ICPD was adopted in 1994, particularly during the Bush Administration. Speaking on the prospects for the future, the American panelist praised reproductive rights supporters United States President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. She lauded Clinton’s willingness to advance the agenda and to stand up to Congressman Chris Smith (R–NJ) to assert that "safe abortion services" was part and parcel of reproductive health care. She bashed Congressman Smith as a "chief nemesis" in the battle for reproductive rights.

The call for renewed and increased advocacy has not merely come from other reproductive rights giants such as IPPF and UNFPA, but from government representatives advising participants on how to put reproductive rights on government agendas.

At a donor panel held in conjunction with the Global NGO Forum, former Senior Population Advisor for the World Bank Tom Merrick advised conference goers to advocate for governments to prioritize reproductive health and family planning, "reproductive health technical experts" to be involved in the design of aid packages, and for reproductive health to be included in monitoring indicators.

The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) distributed a document with the main points that will be reflected in the Berlin Call to Action, particularly "universal access to sexual and reproductive health information and services by 2015" – with "options for safe abortions."

Conference organizers home that the forum is only the start of collaborative efforts.  The conference will continue through the end of the week when organizers hope to finalize two outcome documents – the Call to Action for policymakers and donors, and a compilation of strategic options for non-governmental organizations and networks.

Organizers plan to push the Berlin Call to Action at the 2009 International Parliamentarians’ Conference on the Implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at the end of October.

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