Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I feel both honoured and privileged to be here today as part of the High-Level Task Force for ICPD.
Honoured to be part of a group of such eminent and distinguished leaders from government, civil society, the private sector and from Parliament.
Privileged to be part of a group with an unbelievable energy, passion and determination to promote the ICPD Programme of Action - and the principles and the rights it stands for.
We are here today because the Cairo Agenda is an unfinished agenda, where much still remains to be implemented in many countries. We are here because we feel an urgent need to ensure the Cairo Agenda its rightful place as a top priority on the Development Agenda; both today and when we embark on a new set of development goals post 2015.
And what is it about this Cairo Agenda that makes us members of the High-Level Task Force want to be so involved? Involved in ensuring people’s right to take their own decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives and that they have the means to do so.
For me, the blessing of being the mother of four healthy and happy children has given me a personal insight and awareness. In ICPD terms, I have enjoyed the right to decide freely and responsibly the number (although we did not expect twins), spacing and timing of my children, and I have had the information and access to the means to do so.
I also know how fortunate I am to have gone through pregnancy with full access to information, quality health services and skilled birth attendance – fortunate to give birth in a developed country with good maternal health care. And I fully understand and value the importance of this for my own and my family’s wellbeing and future. At the same time, I am painfully aware of the situation elsewhere, and the huge consequences it has, not only for mothers, children, and families - but also for societies when there is no or limited access to information and services.
As patron of UNFPA, WHO – Regional Office for Europe and Maternity Worldwide I have been actively involved in helping to generate greater awareness of global maternal health, child mortality issues and women’s reproductive rights, including access to modern contraception.
I have travelled with NGO’s and the Danish Ministry for Foreign Affairs on various field trips to countries greatly challenged by these issues.
At the Women Deliver Conference in Washington in 2010 I met two strong and brave women, who had suffered tremendously, because their families did not prioritise their need for skilled birth attendance. As a consequence of obstructed labour they had fistula, which almost destroyed their lives and isolated them from their children, their families and their communities. With help from UNFPA they had surgery – and got their life back. A happy ending, but a journey to that ending that I would not wish upon anyone. And painfully, as in many such stories there is not always a happy ending.
Ensuring access to skilled birth attendance is an important element if we want to prevent fistula and maternal mortality. But we need to look at a comprehensive approach of the ICPD and the Cairo Agenda as originally envisioned, if we want to ensure sexual and reproductive health and rights are a reality for all.
Reducing maternal mortality requires integrated sexual and reproductive health services. Maternal health services, family planning, sexually transmitted infections and HIV prevention are all part of the package. We also need to face the often horribly neglected issue of abuse during pregnancy. This is a problem most maternal health services completely ignore.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Having children has also motivated my strong support to ICPD from a different dimension. My two sons and two daughters will in some years enter into the reproductive age. My oldest son will soon be about the age where he will ask me and my husband how babies are made and delivered – and hopefully, that will not be too soon.
Fortunately, he will get answers from us and also receive comprehensive sexuality education in school, so he can get answers to all his questions and doubts. With knowledge comes the ability to make informed decisions but sadly, this is not the case for many children around the world.
Last November, I opened an UNFPA photo exhibition for young students in the Town Hall of Copenhagen. And I was particularly affected by a photo of a young girl called Asia from Yemen. She was nursing her baby while her other daughter played on the floor. Asia was just 14 years old and already a mother of two. A very big job for a young girl, which leaves her little or no possibility of having a childhood, getting an education and fulfilling her potential and ensuring a better future for her and her children.
And we know this happens every year for 16 million young girls. Their lives could have turned out very differently, if they - and their boyfriends - had access to information and condoms or to other contraceptives of their choice, giving them the possibility to wait and not have children until their bodies and minds were ready.
To give young girls like Asia a real chance of deciding over their own lives brings me back to comprehensive sexuality education in or outside schools – and ensuring that globally every person receives it. Without information and education we do not give young people a fair chance to make free and responsible decisions about their lives.
In many countries, modern sexuality education is not part of the school curriculum. I am sure that many of us here today can recall feeling more than slightly awkward when discussing these intimate issues in class in front of a teacher and our friends, or with our parents at home. But I am also sure that you will all agree that not talking about these issues can certainly have a high price for our children and future generations.
In conclusion, I would like to add that my motivation to join the task force for ICPD and the Cairo Agenda is about working towards a world where every pregnancy is wished for, every childbirth is safe and the right to choose is informed and a given - no matter who you are and where you are.
I look forward to working together with the two co-chairs and all the members of the High-Level Task Force to move forward the ICPD Programme of Action - and the principles and the rights it stands for. I urge all of you present today to support the fulfilment of the Cairo Agenda.