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Kenya hosts top reproductive health summit amid storm over abortion

Tuesday November 12 2019

Uhuru opens ICPD 25

President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses delegates during the official opening ceremony of ICPD 25 at KICC in Nairobi. PHOTO | PSCU 

PAULINE KAIRU
By PAULINE KAIRU
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ELIZABETH MERAB
By ELIZABETH MERAB
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Kenya and the United Nations are hosting a global sexual and reproductive health forum amid opposition over abortion.

The Catholic Church is opposed to the Nairobi summit on the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD 25), saying it is a ploy by some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to advance their pro-choice agenda.

CONTROVERSY

World leaders, government ministers, financial institutions, donors and civil society groups from 169 nations are in Nairobi for the three-day forum which started Tuesday.

The meeting has been heavily criticised by the Catholic Church and some NGOs, who argue that it seeks to promote abortion.

The Vatican on Friday said it would not participate in the summit as the agenda had been reduced to sexual and reproductive health rights and sex education and did not take into account the views of all nations.

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“The organisers’ decision to focus the conference on a few controversial and divisive issues that do not enjoy international consensus and that do not reflect accurately the broader population and development agenda outlined by the ICPD is regrettable,” said the Holy See in a statement.

During a panel discussion at the opening of the forum, Dr Gita Sen, a distinguished Indian feminist scholar and adjunct professor of global health and population at Harvard University, noted: “Even with the accomplishments there’s unfinished business … women’s right to bodily autonomy and integrity, including right to access safe abortion when needed.”

At the opening of the summit, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) executive director Dr Natalia Kanem observed that more than 800 women are still dying during pregnancy and childbirth every day and 232 million women want to prevent pregnancy but not using a modern contraceptive.

“Since the Cairo ICPD [in 1994], we have put women and girls at the centre of global development. This has paid off time and again. That ICPD vision is still far from reality, and that journey that began 25 years ago in Cairo is far from over,” Dr Kanem said. “It’s now time to finish that unfinished business.”

On Tuesday, Heads of States unveiled commitments to achieve short-term targets aimed at realising universal sexual and reproductive health and rights.

President Uhuru Kenyatta reiterated the government's commitment to eliminate obstacles that continue to stand in the way of achieving the set ambitions. "Women are the backbone of the family and the bedrock of the nation,” he noted. “But FGM today remains one of the most serious violations of human rights of women and girls … I restate my personal commitment and that of the government to provide the leadership necessary to ensure that this practice ends within this generation,” he said.