Woman at a radio station (Photo by Jeroen van Loon)
| Author: Rineke van Dam | Function: Advocacy Officer

Blog: Rush Hour for SRHR Advocates

The annual meeting of the CPD is one of the busiest periods for international Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights advocates. From 13-17 April 2015, the 48th session of this United Nations Commission on Population and Development (CPD) took place in New York. Every year, Rutgers is intensively involved in this conference. Follow the conversation through our blog series and on twitter @RutgersWPF #CPD48. The final update was published on 20 April 2015.


20 april 2015

Making History

Imagine a big scale measuring values on the life and rights of individuals around the world, with heavy weights on each side. The lives of women and youth, of us all, are being priced. On one side, a heavy weight representing like-minded countries standing firm for the human rights of all, including sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR); while on the other side a heavy and intimidating African Group, supported by the Arabs, looking to restrict such rights on religious, cultural and traditional grounds.


Thursday 16 April was an important day to search for a balance in this scale, as delegations negotiated from 9 am to 9 pm. Trying to come a bit closer to an agreement, the Belgian chair ordered the two opposing groups to discuss the various 'controversial' topics amongst each other. These topics include the reference to SRHR, gender equality, sexual and reproductive health care services (including family planning and safe abortion), and a sovereignty clause - which hands back all power to governments to pick and choose what they actually implement. 
Although on all of these topics agreements in previous CPD sessions exist; neither side was willing to budge. Friday was going to be D-day: the final day of the CPD which had to end with an agreement.


Our Voice

Luckily Friday morning brought us some relief! It was finally time for civil society organizations to speak up, and express what they want from their governments. We supported two regional statements: one by the African partners - endorsed by 69 CSOs from 12 African countries - and one by the Asian/Arab partners - endorsed by 45 CSOs from Asian/Arab countries.

Yoadan from Ethiopia and Natasha from Pakistan (see picture) read the statements with emotion and strength, calling for their governments to respect, protect and fulfill their sexual and reproductive health rights (and everything that comes with it).

Take it, or Leave it

Sadly, nobody listened to these statements. After nearly two weeks of discussions no agreement was reached and the chair decided to propose a Resolution. It was ’take it or leave it’, no further discussion possible. When the text appeared at 3 pm, we found it was reasonably balanced and primarily based on existing agreed language. Only one paragraph on the 'family' was formulated rather conservatively and would have meant a step back for us.

No Consensus

What happened next is historic and has never happened in the 21 year history of the CPD. After brief deliberations, the Nigerian representative on behalf the African group protested and called for ten more minutes to discuss the content of the text. He wanted additional changes to the chair’s Resolution. The Chair however stuck to her part of the deal: Take it or leave it, and before we knew what was happening, the Chair withdrew her text. Thus, the faith of CPD48 was sealed: no Resolution for the first time in its history.


The conclusion of the CPD, without a Resolution, has its pro's and con's: at least we did not get that nasty reference to the family; but lacking a Resolution may have implications for future sessions of the CPD. The Netherlands delivered a powerful statement calling for SRHR for all on behalf of a range of countries. At 6 pm, it was over and soon after that, we left the UN building.

Time to reflect!

16 april 2015

Negotiations Continue

CPD48 at UN

As negotiations were only going to continue in the evening, today was the perfect moment to meet the Dutch delegation to the CPD. Early in the morning, our partners from Ethiopia,  Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Senegal, Tunisia, and Uganda and assembled for a short walk to the Netherlands Permanent Mission to the United Nations. 

Even though people were being distracted by good discussions and coffee, one could feel the atmosphere of expectation in the room. At 1 pm, we were expecting the new chair’s proposal of the Preambular Paragraphs. This would either set the bar a little bit higher, or lower. In the evening, between 6 and 9 pm, the Operative Paragraphs were going to be discussed. 

Dark Clouds 

While last week’s initial negotiations were characterized by a good and constructive atmosphere, dark clouds have packed above the negotiations in the last two days. Tensions and opposition comes from the usual suspects: the African and Arab group. For example, in the negotiating room moderate African countries are unable to declare their support for comprehensive sexuality education, due to the opposition of Nigeria. It is sad and disheartening how in diplomatic processes it is always the lowest denominator that has most influence. 

Outside the Negotiating Room

On the bright side, we increasingly see African ministers and delegates speaking up for comprehensive sexuality education in the side events. Although these are not part of the official process, it gives us high hopes when a minister from Liberia says he wants to ‘move beyond tokenism’ and look for ‘meaningful youth participation’. Outside the negotiating room, ministers busy the full term Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights without any concern and hesitation. 


The day ended with a three-hour negotiating session on the Operational Paragraphs. Though negotiating may be too big a term. The facilitator avoided the most difficult topics and told member states to resolve their disagreements by themselves. Whether this facilitation tactics will be productive remains to be seen. One thing is for sure: Thursday is going to be a major scramble to reach an agreement by the end of the day.

15 april 2015

Member States' True Colours

After a long night working on the first day of the 48th CPD, we SRHR advocates woke up ready to start the real work. In the weeks prior to the CPD, informal negotiations had already been taking place resulting in a new draft Resolution for the member states to comment on. Today it was time to start the real negotions and the member states to show their true colours.


Rutgers colleagues at the CPD and partners used the morning to approach various governments with their ideas about the Resolution. Although the draft text certainly has its strengths, it did not put human rights sufficiently at the centre. The draft still leaves space for governments to pick and choose the actions they should undertake – the so called sovereignty clause.

As regional groups, such as the African Group, European Group, Arab Group and G77 were meeting and determining their common positions in the morning, it was important to approach country delegations prior to that. 

Rights Remain an Issue

At 3 pm finally the cafeteria at the entrance of the negotiation room started buzzing with the arriving delegates. The ultimate moment for a final talk, a moment of influence! Between 3 and 9 pm, the delegates discussed all ‘Preambular Paragraphs’, leaving the ‘Operational Paragraphs’ for the next day.

Unsurprisingly, a hot and difficult topic concerned sexual and reproductive rights. Even though reproductive rights are established language since 1994, African and Arab regions remain against mentioning them. At the same time, twenty countries including the Netherlands support reference to sexual and reproductive rights. 

This new Preambular text is now expected to be shared by early afternoon on Wednesday. Prior to this Rutgers partners are invited for a breakfast meeting at the Dutch Permanent Mission in New York. We are meeting with the Dutch delegation, including our former colleague Hilde Kroes who is now working at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

After the side events of our SRHR Alliance partners Simavi and CHOICE and dance4life, negotiations on the Operational Paragraphs will commence at six in the evening. Better start catching some sleep before another late night!

14 april 2015

Surprises & Disappointments on the First Day

Monday the 13th of April the 48th session of the Commission on Population and Development (CPD) got started. Waking-up that morning almost felt like waking-up on one’s birthday: the feeling of excitement and expectation. Who will join the party and what will be our presents? Are we going to get what we aimed for? Like every birthday this start of a week full of discussions around sexual and reproductive health and rights brought some pleasant surprises and some big disappointments.

The Rights in SRHR

One of the surprises was Benoit Kasala, UNFPA Director for West and Central Africa, who in his speech at the opening said that ‘sexual and reproductive health and rights are the prerequisite for women and girls to enjoy all other rights’. Kasala’s statement that the centrality of SRHR in the Post-2015 agenda is crucial to its success, is of great importance. UNFPA often needs to dilute its own statements and until last year could not mention the rights part of SRHR. UNFPA now pronouncing its support to the full term of SRHR during the CPD, will help governments to do the same. It maybe seems strange to some of us, but sexual and reproductive health and rights have not been acknowledged during any CPD before.


Lotte Dijkstra

Young People

Another present was how during the plenary session the Dutch Youth Ambassador for SRHR, Lotte Dijkstra, delivered a very strong statement on the SRHR of young people and adolescents. In the statement she took a stand against discrimination, violence and stigma, and for gender equality and human rights. It resulted in an ovation from other delegations, showing their respect and admiration for what she said. 


More of the Same

While the great attention to adolescents and young people can be applauded, most speeches merely focused on the instrumental relationship between adolescents and sustainable development. When given opportunities, young people can bring economic growth and prosperity to countries. The problem with this approach is that it disregards the fundamental human rights of adolescents and young people to for example education, jobs, and health – including sexual health. 



Another disappointment was when registering for the conference, we discovered that the UN would offer only daily passes to enter the building. This may make it more difficult for civil society to fully participate in the conference. We have, however, good hopes that enough passes will be available on a daily basis to secure entry for all our partners. 

Draft Outcome Document

At the end of the day the El-Salvadorian co-Chair of the meeting officially released the long-expected new draft text of the outcome document. With a long evening of work ahead of us, we advocates delved into the document to decipher the good and the bad. Tomorrow is another day, as we come together to strategize on the next steps with the new text. Which government are we going to approach, and what language will we push for? Negotiations will start again at 15.00 on Tuesday the 14th. But for now, let’s call it a day.  

8 April 2015


This year advocate Merel Heilmann will be part of the Dutch government delegation, Yvonne Bogaarts and advocate Rineke van Dam are supporting more than 15 partners from Africa, Asia and the Arab region to influence the outcome of the conference. To follow the activities of Merel, Yvonne, Rineke and all the partners in the coming week, you better know what’s at stake…

What is the CPD About Again…?

During a landmark event in 1994 in Cairo, 179 governments agreed on the International Commission on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action (PoA). For the first time, governments looked at population issues and sustainable development from a human rights perspective. Key is the connotation of sexual and reproductive health and rights as an indispensable factor for sustainable development.

For instance, the PoA stipulates that government should ensure access to modern contraceptives; sexuality education; prevention, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (including HIV/AIDS), and maternal health services, including safe abortion for all, without any form of discrimination.

What’s at Stake?

This year’s CPD takes place in a period that the world stands at a cross-roads. The Millennium Development Goals are expiring in 2015, and as we speak negotiations are taking place at the United Nations on what should come after (also called the Post-2015 development agenda). Rutgers, together with a great number of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) around the world, wants SRHR to be firmly embedded in the Post-2015 development agenda. Moreover, it should be aligned with the ICPD commitments made in the PoA, to avoid parallel or conflicting processes. 
Luckily, this year’s topic for the CPD focuses on the connection between the two agenda’s. It is therefore a great avenue to advocate for strong references in the discussions and the final outcome Resolution to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Advocates from Africa, Asia and Arab Countries

Sexual and reproductive health and rights is a hot topic at the United Nations, always causing heated discussions between member states. It is therefore crucial that civil society organizations work with their governments to make sure they support SRHR as a key factor in sustainable development. Rutgers capacitates and supports CSOs from African, Asian and Arab countries to do that. After intense strategy meetings with the advocates earlier in the year, they are well positioned to influence their government’s position. Some have already been accepted to join their official government delegation as a civil society representatives!

Merel, Yvonne and Rineke are looking forward to keep you posted in the coming week on SRHR advocates’ rush hour, towards the 48th session of the Commission on Population and Development!

Rineke van Dam
Rineke van Dam Advocacy Officer


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