Ladies and gentlemen,
The Cairo Conference in 1994 was an historic milestone. World leaders moved on from a preoccupation with population growth and trying to limit family size. Instead a new approach was developed that centred on respect for human rights, gender equality, and improved rights for women and men to decide on the number of their children.
It is therefore a great pleasure to join you today and to have the opportunity of congratulating the ICPD on its 10th anniversary.
And I would like to extend my special thanks go to Mrs Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA and the driving force of the ICPD. I should also like to express my great appreciation of the work carried out by governments, implementing agencies and activists to make the Programme of Action a reality.
But while warmly welcoming this event I must also note my regret that it has not been possible to follow the UN tradition using the experience gained from the last 10 years to hold a full conference and to set goals for the next decade.
I find it disheartening that ten years after the broad consensus in Cairo some countries are still trying to roll back what was achieved back then. It is equally hard to explain to the many that depend on our aid that we need to continue defending the Cairo consensus instead of pooling all our energy and resources together to address the important challenges we continue to face. We owe it to these people to look ahead, to foster urgently needed international action. The future is here to stay.
The ICPD and Development
When discussing the work of the ICPD it is important to put it in the overall development context and to understand that the ICPD agenda is in fact at the heart of the entire agenda for development cooperation.
The ICPD offers the instruments to enable women, men and families to bring their choice into practice. It provides information on sexual and reproductive health and multi-methods of family planning. It takes full account of the sexuality of adolescents.
The latest UNFPA survey shows that considerable progress has been made in the implementation of the Programme of Action. It is therefore fair to say that ICPD programmes have saved millions of lives by preventing unwanted and teenage pregnancies, unsafe abortions and through the prevention of HIV/AIDS.
After many years as a politician responsible for development cooperation, I am convinced that the timely implementation of the ICPD agenda is essential for poverty eradication, and for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
By working together a great deal has been achieved by the UNFPA, NGOs and the EU. But it goes without saying that a huge amount of work remains to be done.
It is a simple fact that in many parts of the world sexual and reproductive health services are still not an integral part of the primary healthcare system. Services are not available for all and it is the most vulnerable who are effected most: the poorest, those living in remote areas, and individuals living in conflict zones.
To give some examples:
Maternal mortality rates have not decreased in many countries and have actually worsened in some cases.
The practice of female genital mutilation still takes place on a large scale and violates the rights of young women and girls. Legislation against these practices is often in place, but is not sufficiently applied.
Despite the tremendous efforts over the last ten years to fight HIV/AIDS the pandemic is still growing. In 2003 there were 40 million people infected with HIV and three million people died of AIDS or related diseases. Each year five million new infections occur.
We have also witnessed a growing gender disparity in HIV infection rates, with young women at far higher risk than men.
A pre-requisite to successfully addressing these issues is fostering a change in behaviour within communities themselves. This is particular the true concerning attention given to the welfare of the poorest women in society.
This is a difficult challenge ? but it is not impossible. And there are examples which generate hope, such as Mali where maternal mortality was dramatically reduced when a poor community took the initiative of creating their own transport system to bring women with birth complications to the nearest clinic.
Issues for the next 10 years
One of the key challenges for the future will be fully internalising the ICPD agenda into poverty reduction strategy papers.
Sexual and reproductive health services also need to be developed as an integral part of multi-sectoral health policies and programmes.
Communication remains an issue. Further work is needed to convey the message to policy makers that there is a direct link between the sexual and reproductive health agenda and poverty reduction at the family, the community and the national level.
I am very encouraged to hear that the Roundtable is taking steps to make the ICPD implementation more efficient. And I hope that the renewed call for accelerated disbursements and new commitments for the ICPD will lead to great success for the second 10 years of the Programme of Action.
Even the best laid plans will not be realised without adequate resources and the European Commission has been able to back up its moral backing by spending over ? 655 million between 1994 - 2001 to promote sexual and reproductive health.
In response to the US decision to stop funding UNFPA, the European Commission provided ? 22 million to the UNFPA, and a further ? 10 million to the IPPF for the implementation of the Programme of Action.
We are also proud of the EC contribution of ? 1.9 million to the Cairo+10 anniversary ... of which this Roundtable is a part.
And looking to the future, the Commission has budgeted a further ? 425 million for sexual and reproductive health and poverty related diseases over the period 2003 to 2006.
As you all know, I shall complete my term as Commissioner in a few months. Personally, I will carry on promoting this agenda and will do whatever possible to explain the great importance of ICPD in the overall development context.
And although I will no longer be Commissioner I am fully confident that the Commission as an institution will continue to offer active support for sexual and reproductive health.