Our Commitment to Women’s Voices: White Ribbon Alliance at ICPD25

Nov 20, 2019 | News

By Amanda Livingstone, White Ribbon Alliance Advocacy Officer

As global health leaders gathered in Nairobi this month to mark the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), White Ribbon Alliance representatives were there, standing alongside the 1.2 million women and girls who participated in the Want Women Want campaign and demanded accountability for women’s health and rights across the world.

Accountability – it’s What Women Want

Representatives from the Global Secretariat and National Alliances in Kenya,  Nigeria,  Tanzania and  Uganda flooded the Kenyan – and global – airwaves with Want Women Want results along with impact from our broader body of work  advocating for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for all women and girls including persons living with disabilities, refugees, migrants, and adolescent girls.

Countries, UN Agencies, INGOs, professional associations, and CSOs were encouraged to make commitments to the ICPD25 Programme of Action. White Ribbon Alliance made two commitments: one to deliver on the demands made through What Women Want and another as part of the Self-Care Trailblazers Group. These and the other commitments made – are an important step to improve women’s and girls’ health and rights, but without a formal accountability mechanism for these commitments they can only go so far.

Political will coupled with demand from women and girls will be necessary to see these commitments are implemented in a way that truly meets people’s needs. You’ll see caveats in some of the national-level commitments around “upholding the positive cultural and religious values of our country” – code language which threatens sexual and reproductive health and rights access, information and supplies, especially around the areas of providing safe abortions and LGBTQI+ populations.

True accountability to people requires brave voices and bold actions. During the Tracking Commitments for Resources and Commitments for SRHR event, WRA’s Acting CEO Kristy Kade held up a mirror to development professionals – including herself – and encouraged everyone to commit to acting on women’s self-articulated priorities rather than our own. Helga Fogstad of PMNCH then called on Dr. Muhammad Pate, the Director of the Global Financing Facility, which has a huge role in helping countries set health priorities and fund them, to commit to sharing What Women Want’s global and national findings. His response a resounding yes!

H.E. Helen Clark, current PMNCH Board Chair and previous Prime Minister of New Zealand, echoed this sentiment during the SRHR event by recognizing, “There’s a lot of unpleasant truths that come with how short we are of fulfilling our commitments to SRHR. Let’s really take to heart what Kristy and WRA is saying…we need to provide the services women are asking for.”

 In the words of Gogontlejang Phaladi, PMNCH’s Adolescent and Youth Constituency chair during a passionate speech at ICPD, “we cannot leave human rights to good will.” White Ribbon Alliance knows this and is working hard to ensure that everything we do comes from a commitment to equity and equality. The importance of accountability in public health – long the bedrock of WRA’s global movement for reproductive, maternal and newborn health and rights – was a popular topic throughout the week. And, while it is gratifying to hear so much of WRA’s messaging over the past two decades become mainstream within the larger global health and development community, it is important to remember that accountability is more than just a talking point: it should be the only way of operating within public health.