As Nafis Sadik commented in her closing remarks, there are many aspects of the ICPD Programme of Action that represent a "quantum leap" for population and development policies. These include: a shift from the previous emphasis on demography and population control to sustainable development and the recognition of the need for comprehensive reproductive health care and reproductive rights; strong language on the empowerment of women; reflection of different values and religious beliefs; reaffirmation of the central role of the family; and recognition of the needs of adolescents.
REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH CARE AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS: The Programme of Action recognizes that population and development programmes should be based on reproductive health, including sexual health, and reproductive rights for women, men and children. In so far as it goes beyond the traditional concept of family planning, the Programme of Action is in stark contrast with past negotiations on this matter. Experts and advocates have long argued that family planning in itself is not enough, especially when women have walked ten miles to a clinic to find that they cannot be treated for various reproductive tract infections. It has been argued that family planning should be part of a much wider range of reproductive health services. The objectives in the Programme of Action reflect this point of view when they call for ensuring that comprehensive and factual information and a full range of reproductive health-care services, including family planning, are accessible, affordable, acceptable and convenient to all users. EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN: Many delegates and NGO representatives have commented that the language in the Programme of Action on the empowerment of women goes much further than the text prepared for the Beijing Women's Conference. The objectives in the Programme of Action include: to achieve equality and equity based on a harmonious partnership between men and women and enable women to realize their full potential; to ensure the enhancement of women's contributions to sustainable development through their full involvement in policy- and decision-making; and to ensure that all women are provided with the education necessary for them to meet their basic human needs and to exercise their human rights. All countries are urged to ensure the widest and earliest possible access by girls and women in fulfilling the goal of universal primary education before the year 2015. Encouraging the full participation of the girl-child and speaking out against patterns of gender discrimination is also highlighted. This language finally meets the demands of those who have long argued that any sound population policy has to be implemented through those who are in a position to make a difference -- women. ICPD Secretary-General Nafis Sadik highlighted that all delegates who took the floor during the General Debate endorsed this position, proving that this is no longer a point defended by a minority. Although some countries argued that the language on equal inheritance rights between men and women goes against Islamic Law, nonetheless, the progress made towards empowerment of women is considered remarkable.
REFLECTION OF DIFFERENT VALUES AND RELIGIOUS BELIEFS: Many commented that as a result of the concerns of the Vatican and certain Latin American and Islamic countries, the document now reflects different moral, ethical, religious and cultural values that should, in the end, make it more implementable and legitimate in many countries. A key element in giving the document greater sensitivity was the agreement on the chapeau of Chapter II (Principles), which clearly states that the implementation of the Programme of Action will be carried out within the context of national laws and development priorities, with full respect for the various religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds of its people, and in conformity with universally recognized human rights. This not only enabled those countries with strong religious fundamentalist communities to join the consensus, but it also undermined the claim by some protesters that the Programme of Action is yet another manifestation of Western imperialism, where the view of a select few on contraception would be imposed on the developing world.
Furthermore, this language served to neutralize some of the efforts undertaken by the Holy See, among others, to prevent consensus on certain issues, including abortion, contraception, fertility regulation and sexual and reproductive rights. Prior to the Conference, the majority of the media attention was on the so-called "un-holy alliance" between the Vatican and the fundamentalist Islamic countries. The media hype proved to be unfounded in the end, when even the Vatican admitted that it could join the consensus on Chapter II.
REAFFIRMATION OF FAMILY AS THE BASIC UNIT IN SOCIETY: While everyone agreed that the family is the basic unit in society, the flexible nature of the Programme of Action is apparent once again as several countries "qualified" their conception of the family along religious or cultural lines. There was some debate on the matter as the EU and other developed countries wanted to retain the reference to "other unions," but this gave rise to such debate that eventually they "agreed to disagree." As a result the text is less than clear and it will be up to the individual States to implement as they see fit.
RECOGNITION OF THE NEEDS OF ADOLESCENTS: The fact that an entire section of Chapter VII is dedicated to the needs of adolescents is indicative of the realization of the importance of the issue. Although some delegations disagreed that adolescents should have access to reproductive health care, including family planning services, the text states the need "to address adolescent sexual and reproductive health issues, including unwanted pregnancy, unsafe abortion, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS, through the promotion of responsible and healthy reproductive and sexual behaviour, including voluntary abstinence, and the provision of appropriate services and counselling specifically suitable for that age group."
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