State of the World Population – The power of choice

Choice can change the world. This perspective played a central role on Wednesday, 17 October, during the launch of the State of the World Population 2018 report at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Hague. The launch, organised in cooperation with Rutgers, UNFPA and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, consisted of a morning programme with a range of professionals in the field of policy, reproductive health and rights, and population dynamics. Two speakers from Senegal, Fatimata Sy and Solange Mbaje, were present through a video connection with the Dutch Embassy at Dakar.

A healthier birthrate

Birgitte Tazelaar and Arthur ErkenThe morning took off with an inspiring speech by Arthur Erken from UNFPA. Erken voiced the importance of focusing on women’s and girls’ freedom of choice, underlining how this also increasingly plays a role in our own, European backyard. He added that only when women and girls are free to choose when, if, and how many children they want, a healthier birth rate will be possible. 

Currently, women in both high-income and low-income countries do not have freedom of choice. “Reproductive rights are under siege, also in Europe. And of course, we need to push back. Now is the time to stand up for the rights and choices of women and girls. Everywhere and under all circumstances.” Erken emphasised we are approaching a number of 9 billion people on earth. A fundamental step in this is to improve the reproductive rights of women and girls worldwide.

Improve freedom of choice

Birgitte Tazelaar, Director of Middle East North Africa at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and acting Director-General for International Cooperation at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, emphasised the importance of including religious leaders in a freedom of choice approach. “Every year, about 3 million adolescent girls have an unsafe abortion. At the same time, misconceptions about sexual and reproductive health and rights persist, space for civil society organizations in many parts of the world decreases and inequality increases.”

Persistent gender inequality and gender discrimination

Precious Njerere, senior officer at Rutgers for Get Up, Speak Out!, the next speaker in line, started her speech with a welcoming interactive quiz. All the attendees joined via their smartphone and answered three questions related to population and reproductive rights. 

After this intermezzo, Njerere added how women’s and girls’ freedom of choice is directly affected by persistent gender inequality and gender discrimination. “Both have an impact on women’s autonomy and decision making and a negative impact on their access to education and labour participation”. She explained how Rutgers and many others are working hard to establish gender equality worldwide and to remove other barriers that push back developments in reproductive rights and health, and how putting young people front and centre is fundamental. 

Fatima Sy & Solange Mbaje from SenegalMeaningful Youth Participation

The launch was highlighted by the speeches of Fatimata Sy, Director of the Coordination Unit of the Ouagadougou Partnership, and Solange Mbaje, National Country Coordinator of Right Here Right Now, a global advocacy programme. They discussed their experiences as SRHR advocates in Senegal. They emphasised the added value of partnerships and meaningful youth participation (MYP). Solange described how they work together, as a national platform, with a diverse group of organisations, such as youth-led organisations, girls’ organisations, and LGBT groups. She added how they managed to collaborate with the different ministries in Senegal, such as the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Health, for instance as partners in some of their advocacy activities. By involving the whole government in their work, they try to include them in reaching SRHR goals and to hold them accountable for this.

In the media

OneWorld.nl published an article on the launch event here (in Dutch)

Read our opinion on Population & SRHR published on Joop.nl here (in Dutch)

Full report and Highlights brochure

Find the full UNFPA State of the World Population 2018 report and the 2018 Highlights Brochure here.

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