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A pregnant patient makes a follow-up appointment after receiving maternity care at a women’s clinic
A pregnant patient makes a follow-up appointment after receiving maternity care at a women’s clinic in Phnom Penh last year. Kara Fox

Poverty, rights and equality

Dear Editor,

Since 1994, an estimated one billion people have moved out of extreme poverty. Despite the significant progress made over the past 20 years, development is being derailed by ignoring equality rights and women’s health.

The gains we have made cannot be sustained nor can they be increased if we do not address inequality and discrimination, which hit the poorest and most marginalised hardest.

In 1994, a bold vision, the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action (PoA), was adopted by 179 countries including Cambodia, setting forth efforts to tackle the relationships between population, development and individual well-being; principally claiming that the fulfillment of individual rights and capabilities is the foundation of sustainable development.

The ICPD Beyond 2014 Global Report, released on February 12, is the first truly global review of progress, gaps, challenges and emerging issues in relation to the ICPD PoA.

The report provides compelling evidence that strongly reinforces the groundbreaking focus of the PoA, placing human rights and individual dignity at the heart of development and making a clear case for the realisation of human rights and individual dignity as drivers in all areas of development.

However, development gains over the past 20 years do not tell the whole story and mask serious and growing inequalities that exclude enormous numbers of people and that could disrupt development.

Poverty was reduced significantly in the last two decades, yet more than a billion people still live in extreme poverty, without basic needs, meaningful work, access to social protection or public services in health or education.

While economic growth has brought many out of poverty, it has left many behind and has come with enormous costs. We are reaching environmental thresholds with alarming rapidity, driven in large part by consumption at the top, which makes the need for sustainable development more urgent.

Many of the estimated one billion people living in the 50-60 poorest countries are likely to experience no gains in well-being as the rest of the global population gets richer. Women are most profoundly affected and vulnerable.

Additionally, discrimination against women is evident in all societies, and women continue to have fewer opportunities than men to define the direction of their lives, exercise their human rights, expand their capabilities and choose their place in society.

Violence against women and girls continues to be one of the most prevalent forms of human rights violations worldwide, creating a life of extreme insecurity with lifelong costs.

An alarmingly high proportion of people, particularly the poor, still live without access to sexual and reproductive health services. Critically, economic growth alone does not ensure universal, equitable coverage and countries must dedicate resources towards strengthening health systems to ensure that all people have access to affordable, quality care, particularly sexual and reproductive health.

Investment is needed in women, children, adolescents and youth, to ensure every woman and young person, regardless of circumstances, has access to quality education and comprehensive sexuality education and has a safe and productive transition from school to working life and adulthood.

Population dynamics data are critically important for development planning and development efforts must recognise and account for the increasing diversity of households and living arrangements.

The world’s cities and towns are now growing by more than 1.3 million each week as a result of migration, unprecedented growth that represents people’s aspirations for better prospects and a critical opportunity for achieving sustainable development.

The ICPD’s call for increased international, regional or bilateral cooperation continues to be relevant, and requires accelerated efforts to protect, respect and fulfil the human rights and well-being of migrants, reduce the cost of migration, enhance the knowledge base on migrants and to address attitudes and values that stigmatize migrants and obstruct their contributions to countries of origin, transit and destination.

The need for sustainable development has never been more urgent. And our path to sustainability must bring equality and inclusiveness. This is a critical year for UNFPA, for population and development, for human rights and for reflecting these priorities in the new global sustainable development agenda.

The challenge facing all of us – Member States, the UN, civil society – is how we work together to ensure that the global processes in 2014 protect and advance the ICPD agenda and ensure that it is at the centre of the post-2015 development framework.

Working together, we can ensure that sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender equality, the rights of adolescents and youth and non-discrimination are critical elements of the post-2015 agenda.

Dr Derveeuw GL Marc
UNFPA Representative in Cambodia.

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