The Cairo Conference marked a watershed in that reproductive health and rights became an essential priority of development.
Fifteen years after the adoption of the ICPD Programme of Action, we note that there has been progress in some fields, but also that much remains to be done.
After Cairo we met in Beijing and Copenhagen. From there we went through a sequence of important meetings to adopt the Millennium Development Goals in 2000. And rightly, the rights and needs of women and children figure prominently in those goals.
Implementation of the IPCD Programme of Action is crucial to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Looking ahead towards the UN Summit next year, we note that substantial progress has been made.
But it is striking that we have hardly made any progress at all in reaching MDG 5 on maternal mortality, maternal and reproductive health. Globally, there has hardly been any reduction in maternal mortality. Every single minute a woman dies somewhere in the world due to pregnancy and birth related complications.
Almost all of these deaths could have been prevented if basic health services had been available. From the facts presented, most recently in the Human Development Report, it is clear that it’s possible to make pregnancy and birth something women need not fear, but it is also clear that we have far to go towards that vision.
In many countries giving birth is the most dangerous thing a woman can do. A day that should be a celebration of life, is still for too many a day of sorrow and death.
Why? Because we have not taken the issue seriously.
In many parts of the world, including developed nations, women are seen as second class citizens. The men who take decisions do not allocate enough resources to the particular needs of women. As a result, half a million young mothers die of conditions that could have been prevented.
The low status of women and lack of gender equality are responsible for this disgraceful situation. We welcome in this regard the General Assembly resolution to establish a new gender entity to strengthen the capacity in the United Nations to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Concerted and co-ordinated action is urgently needed to make progress on MDG 5. We know what needs to be done, but to do it requires significantly enhanced political will and leadership, community engagement and mobilisation of resources.
Effective health systems that deliver services are key to reduce maternal and new born mortality as well as to ensure sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.
The ICPD Programme of Action highlights “the right of men and women to be informed and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning”. Lack of reproductive health services makes sexual activity more risky for both sexes, but in particular for women. But we are up against ancient deeply rooted prejudices.
Our guiding principle should be “Every pregnancy wanted”.
The rights and needs of young people must also be addressed. A stronger focus on young girls would also reduce teenage pregnancies, a major reason for death among young girls. Lack of education and services does not stop those who young or unmarried from having sex. And there is absolutely no evidence that suppressing information about sex, health and reproduction reduces sexual activity. On the contrary, there is evidence from many countries that sex education promotes responsible sexual behaviour.
Funds available for family planning have gone substantially down in recent years. There is now hope that this trend can be reversed.
I would also like to touch briefly on the issue of abortion. We all know that this issue is sensitive. But regardless of this sensitivity, unsafe clandestine abortions do happen and too often they end in death. It is therefore imperative to make sure that abortions that in fact are taking place, are carried out in a safe manner. Decriminalization of abortion is clearly needed.
Governments, international agencies and civil society have recently started to move the health of mothers and children higher on the agenda. This has given hope for accelerating progress towards Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5.
The new Norwegian government of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg remains committed to maintaining ODA at a high level. Today we presented the state budget for 2010.
In it we have allocated 1.09 % of the estimated Gross National Income for next year for development.
This is an increase of 4 % and a sign of solidarity towards the poor part of the world, not least in the face of the financial crisis.
The government is also maintaining earlier commitments to take on a special responsibility regarding MDG 4 on child mortality and MDG 5 on maternal mortality and reproductive health, and this high level of support will be maintained.