The unfinished business of sexual and reproductive rights for all

On Wednesday 10 April, in cooperation with UNFPA, Rutgers organised the launch of the UNFPA State of the World Population Report 2019, titled ‘Unfinished Business: the pursuit of rights and choices for all’.

30 young people from different countries were invited to talk about the pursuit of sexual rights and choices for all. In the safe and friendly atmosphere at the EMMA office in the Hague, they discussed challenges together with Birgitta Tazelaar, Deputy Director General of International Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and UNFPA Manager of Communications and Strategic Partnerships, Arthur Erken. Their wishes, needs, and actions to secure that all people, including young people, can benefit from Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) were topics of discussion. Four young advocates from the Rutgers’ Right Here Right Now platform, one of Rutgers’ flagship global advocacy programmes, participated through a continuous Skype connection.


An important focus of the event was how far we have got since the ground breaking 1994 Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. At this conference the paradigm surrounding development goals shifted once and for all. Sexual and reproductive rights were linked to sustainable development and 179 countries endorsed a programme of action to improve the situation worldwide.

On the journey towards rights and choices, a coalition of civil society, activists, and organisations such as Rutgers and UNFPA have been helping break down barriers. However, 25 years after the Cairo agenda, we still have much ‘unfinished business’. Many people throughout the world have yet to benefit from the Cairo goals.

Talking about sex

Titir Abdullah Anbar Anan, a Research Specialist at Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), and Saraban Tahura Zaman, a human rights lawyer and the National Coordinator of the Right Here Right Now Bangladesh platform, explained via Skype from Bangladesh which barriers women and young people are encountering. ‘A huge part of the population in Bangladesh consists of young people, but they don’t have any decision-making roles. Young people are not consulted. We are trying to engage them and to create awareness and access to services for young people’, Titir underlined. 

As a response to the question of what kind of restrictions young people and women have to deal with in Uganda, Joweri Namulondo, programme officer at the Youth Equality Centre in Uganda replied; “We don’t have to deal so much with restrictions, we have to deal with resistance”, emphasising how misconceptions about sexuality education withhold the government from implementing sexuality education in schools, while access to information is what young people are craving for.

Access to information

In the Netherlands sexuality education is available at school, but there is little discussion about what personal sexual development means. ‘We should be talking more about sex. In order to do so, gender equality also needs to be addressed in the classroom so we can talk about it in a safe way’, Steven de Grauw, intervention officer and researcher from Rutgers, added in the discussion.

Justine van der Beek, a sociologist who writes on gender, sexuality and feminism emphasised the freedom of choice, also when it comes to abortion. ‘One of the things we see worldwide is religious resistance. In the Netherlands, it is very much focused on abortion.’ Opposition groups demonstrate outside abortion clinics, harassing young women that make the difficult choice to undergo an abortion, spreading incorrect information. Justine contributes to spreading correct information by writing articles on this issue.



Towards Nairobi ICPD+25 summit

Arthur Erken handed over the first copy of the State of the World Population 2019 Report to Birgitta Tazelaar. ‘We should make sure that the promise of Cairo becomes a reality and that young people have the power to achieve this. It is key to make governments accountable for pushing the SRHR agenda globally’, Arthur Erken stressed. ‘This agenda is never safe. If we do not guard it, and fight for it, you never know what may happen’.
He pleaded with the Dutch government to take a leading role at the Nairobi ICPD+25 summit coming up in November, showing that they are committed, that they stand in solidarity with women, girls, boys and men around the world to make sure that SRHR becomes a reality for all. 

Mrs Tazelaar emphasized that Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights are at the heart of Dutch policy, not only SRHR, but gender equality is also key. The Netherlands is and will remain committed to the ICPD agenda. “I totally agree that this agenda will never probably be finished  because there will be a counter push for a long time to come and we need to be ready and ahead of that curve’ she responded to Mr Erken. She also acknowledged that we should focus on creating safe spaces to talk about sex.



What we want, what we need

Amber Kortzorg hosted the 2019 launch and expertly managed the platform of voices for the future. The key conclusions from the young people at EMMA include:

  • Access to correct information and services
  • Freedom of choice
  • To be listened to and included in decision-making
  • Talk more about sex and sexual pleasure
  • Engage boys and men in a meaningful way and realise that they are involved  too
  • Join forces with other young people, government, civil society and stakeholders in order to improve SRHR globally


Full report and Highlights brochure

Please read the complete report on the State of The World Population 2019 and Highlights brochure here


Please read more on ICPD+ here

What we want, what we need quotes

Find some quotes young people made during the event here

In the media

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

Broadly featured a five day Instagram story that you can now find on Rutgers Instagram account (Rutgersnl) under events.

Global Citizens started a tweet action following the launch event. You can find it here.

Rutgers' role
Rutgers' strategy for 2017-2020 is ‘to empower young people towards happy and healthy lives’. Our aim is to contribute to improving the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of all by focusing on young people.

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