News

A revolutionary idea for women and girls that UNFPA has taken forward for 25 years

28 May 2019
In South Sudan, the number of qualified midwives has risen from less than 10 in 2011 to more than 600 by the end of 2017, most of them thanks to UNFPA support. © UNFPA South Sudan/Tim McKulka

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia—UNFPA has carried forward the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) agenda over the past quarter of a century, despite formidable challenges.

During a panel discussion on “What’s changed” since the ICPD was held in Cairo, Egypt in 1994, Executive Director of the Africa Child Policy Forum Dr. Assefa Bequele praised the Fund for its work in this regard.


Dr. Assefa Bequele, Executive Director of the Africa Child Policy
Forum, praised UNFPA for its work in enabling women to choose
the size of their families. To his right is George M. Orina, Minister
Counsellor at the Kenya Embassy in Addis Ababa.
© UNFPA Ethiopia

The idea of a woman taking care of her destiny and being able to choose the size of her family was a revolutionary idea afforded by the ICPD Programme of Action 25 years ago, and the difference that this has made in the lives of millions of women  is to be saluted, he said.

The panel discussion formed part of UNFPA’s African commemoration of its 50th anniversary and the ICPD’s 25th anniversary in Addis Ababa on 22 May.

The panel discussion was moderated by UNFPA Regional Director for East and Southern Africa Dr. Julitta Onabanjo and included representatives of government, civil society, the UN and youth. They spoke on how the African continent has fared in implementing the ICPD agenda, and outstanding matters to be taken up at the ICPD25 Summit in Nairobi in November. 

Africa needs to reap the demographic dividend

Investments made by governments over the past two decades have not always trickled down, especially in terms of social protection, said George M. Orina, Minister Counsellor at the Kenya Embassy in Addis Ababa responsible for coordinating all African Union matters.

Many African countries have the potential to lift their people out of poverty by investing in their youth population, to realize a demographic dividend. But a demographic dividend revolution is needed to create conditions in which youth can thrive.


Issues of rights, particularly girls’ rights, could only bring their
intended effect if a legacy is created between succeeding
generations in carrying them forward, said Cleopatra Okumu, a
United Nations Volunteer with UNFPA’s East and Southern
Africa Regional Office. © UNFPA Ethiopia

Youth representative Cleopatra Okumu, a United Nations Volunteer with UNFPA’s East and Southern Africa Regional Office, said that the energy put into creating policies and economic investments towards the demographic divided should be matched by dealing effectively with intergenerational gaps and creating a legacy in the process. Issues of rights, as articulated in the ICPD agenda, particularly girls’ rights, could only bring their intended effect if a legacy is created between succeeding generations in carrying them forward.   

Ngone Diop, Chief of the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Section at United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, stressed that in this era of the SDGs, leaving women and girls behind would cost Africa dearly. She called for Africa to engage, educate and empower women and girls, and underscored the value of data and monitoring in advocacy, to trigger interest and action among governments on the continent.

Civil society needs to mobilize and put pressure on governments to translate the multitude of declarations they have made into actions, so that the ICPD promises can be fulfilled, said Dr. Bequele. Radical transformative policies need to be pursued to sustain the gains made for Africa to ward off a serious human development crisis and instead, reap the demographic dividend.


Discussing what has changed since the ICPD in 1994 are, from left,
Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, Dr. Assefa Bequele, George M. Orina, Ngone
Diop and Cleopatra Okumu. © UNFPA Ethiopia

Summing up

Governments should invest more in social protection and social services, which are essential for human development, and this is a critical element for realizing the ICPD agenda, said Mr. Orina.

Addressing the issue of financing, Ms. Diop underscored how critical it is to mobilize domestic resources for taking the ICPD agenda forward.

Youth are human capital and they need to be engaged and invested in. Harnessing the demographic dividend for Africa can potentially yield significant resources, with the right mix of policies and investments in youth, Ms. Okumu said.   

- Abraham Gelaw