Tuesday, 25 June 2013
International Conference on Population Development
As I have spoken about many times before in this place, this year is the 20th anniversary of the 1994 ICPD, the International Conference on Population and Development. We know that there is a process in place across the world to review how we are going on the amazingly strong recommendations and statements made by parliamentarians from over 70 countries that met in Cairo in 1994. In our region, the Asia-Pacific region, in Bangkok in September, the Sixth Asian and Pacific Population Conference will gather to look at the work that has been done, to look at the impact of the ICPD agenda, to see what we want in the international program, and to ensure that our region, as you know, Madam Acting Deputy President, which has particular issues around population development, will have say in what the post-ICPD agenda will be.
Two weeks ago in Bangkok, a group of parliamentarians, who were all involved in the parliamentary groups that look at these issues, gathered to see what input parliamentarians could have in their government's position through that conference. I was lucky enough to be there as part of the Asia-Pacific parliamentary group. Together with parliamentarians from seven other countries, we met to look at the original document that was signed in 1994 and, every time I look at that document, I am confronted by exactly how strong, dedicated and committed were the parliamentarians, who gathered together to make that original statement. We were well represented as a country at that original conference, with a number of parliamentarians, including Margaret Reynolds, whom we both know, Madam Acting Deputy President, who came back to this place and spoke about forming our own parliamentary group.
The parliamentarians who gathered in Bangkok two weeks ago had a series of statements that they wanted to take forward to their governments, and I am particularly pleased that our foreign minister in the chamber this evening because he has received a copy of that statement, and I am sure he will take it very seriously in our government's considerations around the project. We wanted to talk about the role of parliamentarians, and we stressed at that time that we recognised the important function that parliamentarians form in passing appropriate legislation, revealing existing legislation and mobilising strong support for laws consistent with the ICPD agenda, which result in sustainable cost effective outcomes for health, society and the economy. We also state very clearly that we recognise and accept the crucial roles that parliamentarians play in advocating for the ICPD program of action and the key actions for further implementation of the program of action. We focused, very clearly, an emphasis on the unfinished agenda, because the agenda is strong and far reaching.
We know that 20 years after the original document was signed, we have still not achieved all the goals that we set ourselves. So we need to look at that, review what has happened and look into the future. The agenda of the original ICPD document was very wide, and we looked at that in the meeting and we focused naturally—and I really stress 'naturally'—on the issue of sexual and reproductive health and rights. It is clear that there must be an emphasis on the needs for a right, spaced approach in making sexual and reproductive health a priority in the health sector, stressing the need for adequate finance and budgets and there must be comprehensive information and access for the community. We called for the protection of the rights of individuals regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and the need that all people should be able to exercise their fundamental rights.
We also looked at the important issue of the rights of women to lead lives free of the threat of, and actual, violence in all settings, including from intimate partners. We recommended that improving the quality of and access to education for women and girls must be, and will continue to be, a priority action, along with genuine investments in gender equality reforms to improve women's economic independence through access to decent work with family friendly policies, to improve access to economic resources and to ensure that we tailor reforms for women who are facing intersecting forms of discrimination.
Clearly one of the key issues must be education and engagement to ensure that women participate in decision making and the political process. We know that in our region, the Asia-Pacific region—and, in particular, our close regional neighbours in the Pacific—there is the lowest number of women who are participating in the political processes in their country anywhere in the world. I know that we can all celebrate the fact that our Prime Minister has engaged with AusAID and a number of countries across our region to put in place a program to encourage and support women to be active in political processes. This is not only to ensure that women are elected into parliament but also to ensure that women are engaged at their local level in knowing the systems in which they operate to ensure that their voices are heard. That has been a core aspect of the MDGs and continues to be the basis for the ICPD agenda.
We looked at the issues of violence. We have strong evidence also in this Pacific region that there is a culture of violence against women which must be identified and addressed, and work must be put in place to ensure that women and children are safe in their communities. We also reiterated the commitment to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, including revising any laws that exonerate the perpetrators of violence, putting in place policies to address practices like early and forced marriage, and addressing the issues of trafficking, the idea of dowries and bride prices, the term that is known as son preference—which is talking about the focus that male children are given greater respect and value in their communities than women—and the ongoing issues of female genital mutilation.
In tackling all of these issues, we recognise the importance of investing in men and boys to transform the norms of behaviour that perpetuate gender inequalities and discriminatory practices. The core part of the ICPD agenda is respect for individuals and ensuring that there are strong and effective communities. With that basis, we can ensure that the rights that were so clearly identified at the 1994 agenda will be able to move forward into the future.
We also looked at a number of issues concerning particular age groups, and the issues of young people were raised in discussions, both in 1994 and now, because our region has communities that have a great number of young people. In communities such as Timor-Leste, Samoa and Vietnam, a high percentage of the population are under 21. These young people need to ensure that their rights are protected. Naturally, because we are looking at a conference around population development, there was a lot of discussion and commitment about ensuring that appropriate sexual health and reproductive rights education is provided to these young people, again stressing their need to have information upon which they can make effective decisions about their own lives and feel secure that those decisions will be understood and respected in their community.
We also looked at the issue of population growth generally across the area—at ensuring that there is an opportunity for all human beings to have effective development, and at committing to policies that make this development sustainable. The issues around the environment were already on the agenda in 1994, and countries across the world were acknowledging that sustainable development was an important part of making decisions for the future.
The ongoing concerns about growing urbanisation and the growth of cities were also part of this agenda, looking at how those two ideas about support for individuals and community could be maintained in any planning for future development in any area. Looking at the other aspect of population, we had the concern about young people but also, in the same region, there are considerable issues around ageing. Once again, we need to respect and value people, ensuring that they are part of their strong community.
We all have the opportunity to be part of the decisions that are going to take place in the post-ICPD agenda. I encourage parliamentarians in this place to learn about this agenda and to become part of plans for the future. We are still worried that parliamentarians across our region do not understand what the ICPD agenda is, do not engage with their government and do not want to take part in the priority decisions that have to be made. The parliamentarians that met in Bangkok understood the challenge and want to be part of the future.