Dr Hedy Fry
Inter Press Service
300 Parliamentarians from over 150 nations will meet, in Ottawa, to tackle one of the most serious global challenges facing humanity.
The International Parliamentarians’ Conference on the Implementation of the ICPD Program of Action (IPCI), October 22-23, is a forum, for all global regions, to generate collective action on issues of population and development, specifically as they relate to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
As chair of the host Canadian parliamentary association (CAPPD), I am excited at the prospect of not only looking back at the gains we have made since nations pledged action on the 1994 UN Declaration on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights globally, but also to identify where and why we have failed to achieve those goals for women, girls and youth.
Canada is in a strong position, now, in 2018, to play a leadership role in addressing the existing inequalities to SRHR not only worldwide, but in our own backyard.
The Government of Canada has pledged and made good on, our commitment to play an enhanced role in this area, through the Feminist International Assistance Policy. This policy’s commitment to maternal, new born and child health aims to close the still glaring gaps in SRHR for many developing regions.
It is backed by an additional investment of $650 million over three years, which will be allocated to meet SRHR needs, globally.
Here at home, there’s also much work that needs to be done. Canada is well aware that our own Indigenous communities still have unequal access to SRHR and basic health infrastructure. We are also aware that Indigenous peoples in the Americas face the same, if not greater challenges.
Also here in Canada, federal and provincial jurisdictional issues can lead to unequal access to abortion, and to Mifepristone, the abortion pill—both of which are legal in Canada.
The National Newspaper, Globe and Mail, has been highlighting these issues and its Atlantic Desk, Jessica Leeder, will be a keynote speaker at IPCI 2018, expanding on these challenges.
The IPCI forum will not only look at solutions to these existing problems but discuss, frankly and openly the new worldwide issues that are looming.
Diverse cultural and religious practices, as well as poverty and minority status, remain a problem where women and youth are denied access to full SRHR. Recent UNICEF statistics indicate that at least 200 million women and girls alive today have been subjected to female genital mutilation.
The rise in regional conflicts that now use rape as a “tactic” to subdue minority and “enemy” populations have made women and girls even more vulnerable.
Unprecedented migration of those fleeing conflict, seeking food and sustenance as a result of climate change and poverty has created large populations of displaced persons living in temporary zones with no access to healthcare, where they are increasingly vulnerable to exploitation and sexual trafficking.
For the one million Rohingya now living in Bangladesh refugee camps, the United Nations reported that over 60 births occur each day, while Oxfam Canada released a startling statistic that showed 25 to 50 per cent of maternal deaths in refugee camps are caused by unsafe abortions and related complications.
We’ve also seen an increase of “right wing” political movements that seek to curb access to legal contraception and abortion and the education of youth with regard to sexual health. Additionally, these movements have been known to promote systemic xenophobia denying rights to minorities.
This includes LGBTQ+ communities, which has an impact to increase public health mortality and morbidity rates globally. We must not forget the persistent and growing incidence of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
The fact is, there’s no better time than now to take action. Parliamentarians at IPCI 2018 will not only explore these themes, frankly and openly, but will hear from speakers about innovative solutions that are taking place in a variety of regions around the world.
We are uniquely placed to influence change. As stated in the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, paragraph 45 recognizes “the essential role of national parliaments through their enactment of legislation and adoption of budgets and their role in ensuring accountability for the effective implementation of our commitments.”
Parliamentarians can challenge governments that promote xenophobia and harmful policies. We can stand up for human rights and the full access to SRHR for women and youth locally. We can bond with other nations to make concrete change that would benefit all, globally. This is what I hope we can achieve at IPCI 2018.
Dr Hedy Fry, PC MP, is a Trinidadian-Canadian politician and physician. She is currently the longest-serving female Member of Parliament, winning eight consecutive elections in the constituency of Vancouver Centre since the 1993 election, when she defeated incumbent Prime Minister Kim Campbell