50th Session of the Commission on Population and Development Ends With No Consensus

After nearly two weeks of intense negotiations, UN member states failed to agree on an outcome document during the 50th Session of the Commission on Population and Development (CPD50) – the second time in three years. The United States played a decisive role in today’s push back against people’s rights to decide freely and responsibly over their sexual and reproductive life. This will have detrimental effects on global efforts to reduce teenage and unplanned pregnancies, STI including HIV infections, maternal mortality and unsafe abortions.

In a blatant show of force and in line with the current administration’s support for the Mexico City Policy (Global Gag Rule), the United States announced an end to its US$ 32.5 million funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)[1] on the first day of CPD50. This withdrawal of support set the tone of the United States’ engagement at CPD50, and its collusion with conservative countries to undermine reproductive rights.

Despite this discouraging development, member states carried on constructively, discussing policies related to the CPD50 theme: changing population age structures and sustainable development. Discussions touched upon ageing societies and pensions, women’s empowerment and labour market participation, to demographic dividend and young people’s participation. As earlier CPDs, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and the role and definition of ‘the family’ remained issues of contention.

The right to decide…

A large coalition of like-minded countries from various regions were keen to include references to SRHR in the CPD50 outcome document. Proposed paragraphs included: the importance to invest on family planning, modern methods of contraception, comprehensive sexuality education and a listing of sexual and reproductive health services – including safe and legal abortion. Such policies are considered fundamental for people to make well-informed choices about the number and spacing of their children, and their life paths in general. Further, that SRHR investments, in addition to education and employment, is beneficial for countries to reach a demographic dividend, boosting economic development and poverty eradication.

'The family' vs 'families'

The ICPD PoA affirms the centrality of the family in society and indicates that in different contexts, various definitions of family exist. Some conservative countries have been keen to emphasise the centrality of the ‘family’ in policy making based on a traditionally rigid conception. Defined in stereotypical and heterosexual terms – families consisting of same-sex couples, single-parent households, child-led households or families headed by grandparents, for example, are excluded, and do not benefit from policy arrangements.

The finale

Despite the huge divide in views on SRHR and ‘the family’, member states sought to build bridges and reach consensus. The proposed outcome document delivered by the Chair was an attempt to strike a delicate balance that accommodates the concerns of conservative countries (by including references to the sovereign right of countries to decide on how to implement commitments set out in the resolution), while safeguarding earlier agreements that uphold ICPD PoA principles. Regrettably, the United States rejected the proposed text and attempted to renegotiate language further; encouraging conservative countries to join in their effort. Following a few hours of backdoor discussions, several text amendments were offered, all of which did nothing but to water down global commitment to rights and human dignity – a ‘no-go’ for progressive-leaning organisations and countries. As such, the Chair had no other option but to withdraw the proposed text, and close the 50th session without an outcome document.

 Members of the Right Here Right Now Strategic Partnership at CPD50

Not in vain...

Although investments at CPD50 without an outcome document to show does seem like a waste of resources, not all has been in vain. This year’s CPD showed that the push back against human rights, and in particular, against women’s rights and sexual and reproductive rights are real.

But, these too have resulted in awakened resistance and calls for solidarity and consolidation: that cross-regional and like-minded group of countries are ‘woke’ (Read joint closing statement of 30 countries during CPD50, which was delivered by a representative from France).

For progressive-leaning groups and Rutgers, the only way forward is to strengthen 1994 standards.



[1] The UNFPA is the UN agency that steers global implementation of the ICPD PoA (International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action), and is responsible for improving sexual and reproductive health in over 150 countries.

[2] Rutgers participated at CPD50 in close consultation with representatives of the Right Here Right Now (RHRN) Strategic Partnership.


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