The global population conference taking place in Nairobi this week has generated a lot of heat. Yet the subject of discussion is so crucial as to galvanise public and international attention towards a single cause. Evidently, it illustrates the divergence of conception and understanding of issues, which cannot be divorced from cultural, social and religious orientations.
Substantively, the International Conference on Population Development (ICPD) seeks to rally the world to address issues of population explosion, access to reproductive health, family planning and creating societies where individuals enjoy life to the maximum. For the developing nations, exponential population growth has created serious socio-economic and political challenges. Competition for scarce resources creates an unhealthy environment characterised by conflicts. Wide inequalities engender deep rivalries. A billion people live in poverty, mainly in Africa.
Related to this, and as articulated by President Kenyatta in his keynote address yesterday, are gender inequality, retrogressive cultural practices such as female genital mutilation, teenage pregnancy and early marriage, which confine many girls and women to a life of servitude. Preventable maternal deaths and high child mortality and morbidity rates are inimical to universal healthcare. Such human rights transgressions must be tackled.
The ICPD coming to Kenya at this point in time is quite opportune. Just last week, the government released results of the latest census that put the population at 47 million, up from 40 million a decade ago. Of this, more than half are resource-starved, illustrating the magnitude of the challenge that comes with numbers.
Yet the conference has attracted strident criticism from the faiths and lobbies, who perceive it as an omnibus loaded with ideologies antithetical to African and religious beliefs. Arguments have been framed by the critics based on the language used for explaining the conference goals, which give it a negative conceptualisation. Yet that is not necessarily the intention. For example, universal access to family planning, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights and women’s empowerment have been interpreted to include propagation of abortion.
Which is why we call for tolerance and consensus. A conference of this nature must be alive to the regional, sociocultural and religious sensitivities. The language used in crafting the resolutions, and articulation of the issues therein, must be unambiguous and sensitive to those realities.
But Kenya, like the rest of world, cannot escape from the impact of globalisation and all its manifestations. We have to confront the emerging realities with an open mind, accepting what is reasonable and practical as we frown at all that is repulsive.