Demographic Dividend in Focus at ICPD25

Ian MatthewsNews

The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994 in Cairo gave way to a Programme of Action that became the steering document for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Universal education, reduction in infant and maternal mortality, as well as improved access to reproductive and sexual health services were landmark goals set in Cairo.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of this conference, which steered the work and brought about the existence of thousands of related organizations around the world. It also marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of UNFPA.

Co-convened by the governments of Kenya, Denmark and UNFPA, the ICPD+25 Summit aimed to measure the progress made to date, and set the stage for continued progress for women and girls across the globe. With 9,500 participants from over 170 countries, the conference was a medley of representatives from government, private sector, non-profits and other attendees from social scientists, advocates, and doctors, to lawyers and activists. Spanning over three full days of concurrent sessions, films and hosted lunches, the conference touched on a variety of key issues. Its five main themes were:

  • Improving access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH)
  • Financing for the ICPD Programme of Action
  • Sustainable development based on demographic diversity
  • Ending gender-based violence
  • Protecting SRH rights in fragile contexts

Commenting on the importance of the Summit, UNFPA Regional Director for West and Central Africa (WCARO), Mabingué Ngom, said “Most of the work done by UNFPA WCARO revolves around a clear focus – capturing the demographic dividend – which will kick-start the continent’s long-awaited economic boom. For this to happen, it is vital to change the discourse on population issues by linking demography to unmet social demands, the labour market, migration and, of course, instability.”

He added, “It is estimated that achieving the [demographic] dividend could generate exceptional economic growth in Africa, of around $500 billion a year for at least 30 years… This unprecedented potential requires changes in the population structure, the empowerment
of women and improvements to health and education… At national and continental level, coherent policies and investment in human capital are needed. While African countries have all the resources required to move the demographic dividend forward, they need strong international partnerships.”

SWEDD initiative at ICPD

GBCHealth partners with UNFPA on the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) project, which aims to empower women and adolescent girls and reduce gender inequality by improving access to quality maternal and child health services as well as family planning.

Some of the achievements of the SWEDD project were highlighted as part of a photo exhibition organized by UNFPA WCARO and GBCHealth at the ICPD25 Summit. Through images from 20 West and Central African countries, the photo exhibition and complimentary photo essay book released during the conference provided photo essays from the field of lives changed through improved accessibility to SRH education and services, and empowered local communities through capacity building and active participation of key demographics, particularly women and young people.

Mabingué Ngom and Nancy Wildfeir-Field, President of GBCHealth, visit a safe space in Niamey, Niger. The school’s activities aim to end child marriage by providing a safe space and skill-building for young girls, and to promote the importance of education and skill-building for girls as bread-winners that can support their families rather than a burden.

Some of the success stories from the SWEDD project captured within the exhibition include the Husbands Club in Burkina Faso which aims to generate more inclusive conversation around voluntary family planning that ensures both women and men are equally informed and involved in planning the future of their family. Various girl apprenticeship initiatives in Chad and Niger were also highlighted in the exhibition to showcase how skills and capacity-building of girls combined with health education can have a positive and lasting effect that goes beyond women and girls to include entire communities as a direct result of enhanced socioeconomics.

SWEDD was featured in a session at the Summit, titled “Demographic Dividend in the Sahel”. The session shared best practices and innovative approaches to supporting women’s and girls’ empowerment and men’s contributions to gender equality from the SWEDD initiative. The panel highlighted significant gains in improving women and girls’ empowerment and also shed light on life-altering changes in men’s behavior. With record-high percentages (above 94%) in girls’ school enrolment rates, and increased self-esteem through safe spaces, more and more girls across the 11 SWEDD countries are learning and studying instead of raising children of their own. In addition to this important gain, the Husband’s Clubs and Future Husband’s Clubs are already showing signs of a culture shift where men take on a more participatory role in child-rearing and domestic tasks.

Role of the private sector

During the Summit, the need for the private sector’s involvement in improving education, economic empowerment and health for girls and women was also highlighted. BD, Johnson & Johnson, Philips, the Ford Foundation, World Vision, Bayer, MSD for Mothers, and others announced the collective mobilization of around USD 8 billion in new pledges in support of the ICPD Programme of Action.

Commenting on the importance of the private sector’s investment, Mariarosa Cutillo, head of UNFPA’s Strategic Partnerships Branch said “The private sector is indispensable to meeting the ‘three zeros’ of the Nairobi Summit. Together, partners across sectors, from health care to technology as well as philanthropic foundations and civil society, have made inspiring commitments to the health and rights of women and girls.”

The Summit also featured a panel discussion about how the private sector can help close the funding gap to fulfill the promise of ICPD for women & girls. During the discussion, BD Executive Vice President, Global Health and President, BD Foundation, Gary Cohen suggested that our health systems currently start with symptoms to fix systems that highlight specific social underpinnings when in reality, we should proceed in a people-centered approach that will yield better understanding of social underpinnings that will in turn inform system-wide improvements that will curtail symptoms.

GBCHealth President Nancy Wildfeir-Field participated in a Summit panel discussion entitled “South-South and Triangular Partnerships to Accelerate the ICPD Promise,” where she and other experts shared insight on how new opportunities and public-private partnerships can be leveraged to accelerate the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action. South-South and Triangular Cooperation is increasingly important as a means of mobilizing knowledge and resources for global development.

GBCHealth President Nancy Wildfeir-Field (left) during the “South-South and Triangular Partnerships to Accelerate the ICPD Promise” panel.

Looking ahead to the next 25 years of ICPD

The Summit ended with a call for renewed momentum, political will and leadership to navigate the complex political will around SRH, and amplification and acceleration of youth-focused SRHR-related commitments while accounting for barriers to youth access.

Some big takeaways of the Summit were that:

  • women’s empowerment is multi-dimensional and should include literacy, family planning and entrepreneurship;
  • ODA funding has been decreasing and the need for diversifying financing for SRH is paramount;
  • partnerships that leverage the private sector’s core competencies have made great strides in SRH;
  • engaging men as partners has yielded transformative results in various settings across the world, including GBV and women’s empowerment;
  • a woman-centered approach is the way to improve and ensure quality of care;
  • data innovations facilitate health system strengthening through care integration, commodities procurement and managements, evidence-based policy making and much more;
  • ending the unmet meet for family planning can be achieved through community health workers.

Concluding the Summit, UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem said “The Nairobi Summit represents a renewed, re-energized vision and community working together to act and deliver. Together, we will make the next ten years a decade of action and results for women and girls, keeping their rights and choices at the centre of everything we do.”

She added, “I am pleased to announce that UNFPA will create a new high-level commission to drive [the ICPD Programme of Action] and our commitments forward. We will draw from the full spectrum of stakeholders — government and the private sector, young people and activists, civil society and philanthropy. The commission will propose ways to monitor progress on the commitments made here this week, while accounting for all existing global, regional, and national follow-up mechanisms.”

Following the Summit, stakeholders released the Nairobi Statement on ICPD25: Accelerating the Promise, which is a framework for the commitments necessary to achieve the Programme of Action in the coming years. The statement can be found here.

ICPD+25 took place in Nairobi, Kenya at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) from November 12 to 14.

Ian MatthewsDemographic Dividend in Focus at ICPD25