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UNITED NATIONS, New York – Twenty years ago in Cairo, the Programme of Action adopted at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) articulated a bold new vision that recognized the human rights of women and young people, including their reproductive health and rights, as cornerstones of sustainable development.

On 8 April 2014, representatives from governments, international organizations, civil society, and women’s and youth groups gathered at the United Nations to celebrate the vision of Cairo, take stock of progress made, and lay the groundwork for the future development agenda.

“There can be no sustainable development without moving the sexual and reproductive health agenda forward,” said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA. “The benefits of investing in sexual and reproductive health are well-known and well-documented. They deliver substantial social and economic returns for women, young people, their families and communities.”

Hosted by the High-Level Task Force for ICPD during the ongoing 2014 session of the UN Commission on Population and Development, currently under way at the United Nations, the event focused on actions to be taken to ensure that gender equality and the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and young people are truly advanced through ongoing intergovernmental processes.

“We are here to recommit ourselves to making good on our promises, as well as to celebrate our aspirations for going beyond Cairo and forging a global agenda suited to 21st-century realities,” said Joaquim Chissano, Former President of Mozambique and Co-Chair of the High-Level Task Force for ICPD.

Supporting the fundamental dignity of every human being 
“Sexual and reproductive rights are human rights. They are not new rights and they are not optional,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, highlighting the linkages between human rights, population and development, and women’s rights. “They are intrinsic to a range of internationally biding treaties.”

The common touchstone of the ICPD and other major agreements on human rights and gender equality, she said, “is the fundamental dignity and autonomy of every human being. In the resonant words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

Investing in young people
Ishita Chaudhry, a youth leader and activist from India, encouraged young people to hold their governments and the international community accountable for fulfilling their commitments to sexual and reproductive health and rights and to address the sociopolitical and environmental conditions that perpetuate poverty, violence and discrimination.

She also had a message for the leaders negotiating the future of the ICPD agenda at the Commission on Population and Development: “You cannot be afraid of challenging injustice. My generation looks to see how you will leave your footprints at this moment in history. We hope that you will ensure that the commitment to achieving sexual and reproductive health and rights remains at the core of the international development agenda. The lives of millions of young women and girls, including mine, depend on it.”

A vision for the 21st century 
Reflecting on the past 20 years, Dr. Osotimehin recalled the concerted effort – especially of civil society and women’s groups – that made the original ICPD agreement possible, and called for similar determination at this critical junction.

Looking to the future, he underscored that there is wide agreement that the post-2015 development agenda must have people at its core. “We have to be strong, courageous, creative and tenacious. We have to work together to promote a development framework in which every person, including those most vulnerable and marginalized, counts. I am confident we will be able to advance. In fact, we may be unstoppable”.

The event was co-hosted by the Governments of Argentina, Brazil, Finland, Germany, Liberia, Mexico, Mongolia, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Slovenia and South Africa.