Timothy E. Wirth, President of the United Nations Foundation, and former US Senator, urged international non-governmental organizations meeting in London for the Countdown 2015 Roundtable to fulfill the right of all the world’s citizens to protect themselves from disease, poverty and violence.
Countdown 2015 is the major international event marking the 10-year anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in Cairo.
Calling implementation of the first half of the ICPD’s 20-year action plan a great accomplishment, Wirth urged global priority in the next 10-years for the “right to protection,” a new concept which, he said, can be found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other agreed international human rights instruments.
“In this second decade of ICPD implementation, our overriding objective must be to alleviate the climate of fear that pervades so many lives in too many parts of the world. The antidote to fear is protection,” Wirth said. “The right to protection embodies all of the rights which the Universal Declaration confers on every individual.”
Specifically, Wirth referred to equal rights as protection against discrimination; the right to security of the person as protection against violence; reproductive rights as a protection from disease and interference in family life, the right to education as protection against ignorance; and protections against trafficking, forced marriage and enslavement.
Wirth, a former U.S. Senator and Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs who helped lead the U.S. delegation in Cairo, called the ICPD one of the most successful global conferences of the past 30 years. “The ICPD completely overhauled the population and development paradigm, elevated health, development, and the empowerment of women to the forefront of the global agenda, and helped paved the way to the Millennium Development Goals,” Wirth said, and noted remarkable progress in its implementation.
He offered four ideas for fulfilling the right to protection:
1. THE STRATEGY FOR PROTECTION:
“Reproductive health, AIDS prevention, and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals must be pursued not as separate campaigns, but rather as interlocking pieces of the same puzzle – as an integrated agenda.”
“The reproductive health and HIV/AIDS communities share the same clients, our messages are similar, and the skills and facilities required by health care providers are the same. We must link services to make most efficient use both of the health care dollar and the time of service providers and clients alike – and it has been proven to work.”
2. TECHNOLOGIES FOR PROTECTION
“Condoms can simultaneously prevent unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and the AIDS virus itself. But the supply of condoms in resource-poor countries – currently at some 6 billion a year – is at least 50 percent short of need and demand is growing. Unfortunately, some governments are getting out of the commodity provision business and this is creating even greater shortfalls. Donors provide funding to supply only an estimated 2.5 billion condoms, but even that support is waning. Worse, the United States and others have started questioning the efficacy of condoms.”
“To condemn women by indifference to science and by failure to provide tools for their own protection may not meet the technical definition of crime against humanity, but it is certainly gross negligence toward humanity. We cannot countenance this indifference and diversion of common sense. We must fight back and mobilize the commodities and comprehensive prevention efforts that experts estimate could prevent 30 million of the anticipated 45 million new cases of HIV infection.”
“Simultaneously, we must press ahead to make female condoms more affordable and acceptable, and we must accelerate research so that women in the future can tap the potential of even more promising means of protection; including female-controlled methods like microbicides.”
3. THE ENVIRONMENT FOR PROTECTION
“People cannot utilize the technologies of protection unless they are operating in an economic and social environment that is conducive to doing so.”
“We must encourage universal recognition of the internationally-agreed age of marriage – 18 – and work to protect the right of everyone to consent to marriage. Absent concerted action, more than 100 million girls will be married as children in the next 10 years. Child marriage is not healthy, it is not wise and it is not okay.”
“Nor is the continued and significant gender gap in education, which despite progress still exists both at the primary and the secondary level. Girls are unlikely to stay in primary school if they know that future opportunities are foreclosed. Societies will not realize the full promise of educated girls if barriers to their secondary education persist.”
4. POLITICAL LEADERSHIP FOR PROTECTION
“Finally, we need to summon political leadership for protection, including continued priority for efforts to mobilize the resources needed to achieve the ICPD’s objectives. We need for leaders at all levels to talk candidly about the realities and challenges of AIDS and about difficult subjects like adolescence and education.”
“We need for all governments, regardless of culture, customs, politics or history, to protect the universally recognized human rights all nations have agreed to and to which their citizens are entitled. And we need for governments to prosecute those who violate them. There is no sliding scale of acceptability to these rights – rape and gender-based violence are as unacceptable as murder and torture, and no society has the right to condone, through inattention or inaction, violations of fundamental human rights and the ability of individuals to protect themselves.”
“Through UNFPA and other international institutions we must further elevate the priority for women in development. For too long development has focused on things – power plants, roads, dams and the like – and in too many cases these investments have benefited only a fortunate few. We need to put people and families first, and we can do this by investing in women – investing in women’s needs, in women’s opportunities, in women’s rights. It is time for the international community to ensure that women are not a priority in development but the priority in development.”
Wirth expressed sadness that the United States has recently abandoned its historic role as a leader in population and development issues. “In a reversal of its historic role, my own country has emerged as one of the most significant obstacles to progress. On issue after issue, the current Administration has placed ideology above evidence and bias above science.”
Created in 1998 with a $1 billion gift from entrepreneur and philanthropist Ted Turner, the United Nations Foundation builds and implements public-private partnerships in support of the United Nation’s (UN) efforts to address the most pressing humanitarian, socioeconomic, and environmental challenges facing
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