The CPD Roller Coaster

Ariana Childs Graham

While the final Commission on Population and Development Resolution presented some problematic language regarding adolescents, it spoke out strongly for women's reproductive freedom.

While the negotiations of the Conference on Population and
Development (CPD) at the United Nations (UN) go on behind closed doors,
advocates of every stripe gather outside to stand watch, provide any assistance
delegates may need on possible language and strategy, and try to get their
issues on the table up until the very last second.

It is no surprise then that on the second morning of
negotiations during the 42nd session of the CPD, which took place
March 30-April 3, sexual and reproductive health and rights advocates were on
our way to the hall outside of the negotiation room.  However, when we
arrived every bench immediately in front on the negotiation room was
commandeered by none other than the representatives from conservative Family
Watch International (FWI) and Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute
(C-FAM).  There weren’t many of them, but they had spread themselves
out as to not leave one seat available.  And, while this may seem like a
minute and trivial detail, as we all know from West Side Story, turf is

Little did the FWI and C-FAM folks know, the tide was
about to change.  Not long after we arrived, delegates began to stream out
of the negotiation room.  While the representatives from FWI and C-FAM
stuck to their positions, the rest of us followed the herd.  When we
arrived at what was to be the new negotiation room, there were benches aplenty,
and we promptly arranged seating and set up shop. While the issues we were
there to advocate on behalf of were certainly serious, this humorous scene
mirrored the proceeding inside: you never know where you will end up in the

This story is a children’s ride compared to the
rollercoaster that was going on inside the negotiation room.  Luckily, the
delegates were able to come to a resolution, but only after plenty of ups and
downs. Per the direction of this year’s theme for the CPD, delegates were
tasked with assessing "The contribution of the Programme of Action of the
International Conference on Population and Development to the internationally
agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals." The
CPD serves to inform and advise the UN’s Economic and Social Council,
offering its recommendations in the final Resolution of the meeting. 

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While the Conference debated issues such as the status of
civil society organizations in relationship to governments and perceptions of
international migration’s impact generated some controversy, the most
contentious issues by far related to sexual and reproductive health and rights
(SRHR).  Unequivocal in their position on SRHR, the Holy See, as
represented by Permanent Observer of the Holy See, Archbishop Celestino
Migliore, accused "the very institution which launched the
MDGs…[of] giving priority to population control and getting the poor to
accept these arrangements rather than primarily focusing on [the MDGs]
commitments to addressing education, health care, access to water, sanitation
and employment."  Such claims of championing the rights of others,
while dismissing attention to their sexual and reproductive health needs as
merely "population control," represent a dogmatic adherence to
ideology rather than a call to fulfill their human rights.

Even the phrase "sexual and reproductive health and
rights" aroused passionate debate.  Family Watch International,
whose mission is to "preserve and promote the family, based on marriage
between a man and a woman as the societal unit that provides the best outcome
for men, women and children" has attempted to confuse the issue by
claiming that "sexual rights," could be used to "promote
abortion, homosexuality, transsexuality, prostitution, pedophilia, pornography
etc."   This "slippery slope" fallacy is
meaningless and offensive, and, while such fearmongering might generate a few
additional donations among their followers, it clearly would not stand up in
legitimate negotiations.  While the draft Resolution during the final
plenary include the phrase "sexual and reproductive health and
rights" and appeared to have consensus, in the final hour the delegation
from Iran
refuted the inclusion of "sexual and reproductive health and
rights" stating that there is not agreed upon language on the definition
of "sexual rights."  In the end it was replaced with the
language, "sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights."

While the final Resolution presented some problematic
language regarding adolescents, there were clearly some breakthroughs. 
The Resolution incorporated key language from the Platform for Action from the
Fourth World Conference on Women, stating that women have the right "to
have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their
sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion,
discrimination and violence."  It is simply amazing how such few
words embrace such an expansive notion as free will, responsibility and
self-determination.  Regardless of how divisive right-wing factions can be
in such matters, whether as part of country delegations or NGOs jockeying on
the sidelines, their arguments that SRHR are outside of the human rights
framework, at the most extreme, or that they are somehow subjugated in a false
hierarchy of rights, ultimately find a dead end.  Picking and choosing
parts of the wide range of human needs, and placing them in competition with
one another, directly violates the foundation of human rights, which recognizes
the "equal and
inalienable rights of all members of the human family."  

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Reproductive rights are a public health issue. That's a fact.

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