Fifty-fifth Session,
Virtual & 4th Meetings (AM & PM)

Expert Panellists Outline Ideas for ‘Building Back Better’ COVID Recovery, Implementing 2030 Agenda, in Commission on Population and Development

Experts outlined demographic and development-based approaches to “building back better” from the coronavirus pandemic while advancing towards full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as the Commission on Population and Development’s annual session entered its second day today.

The Commission kicked off its morning segment with a panel discussion on recovery from the pandemic, with experts also discussing the links between population trends and development.  Throughout the morning, panellists discussed the main impacts of the health crisis and the challenges they impose on efforts to realize the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Several panellists highlighted national examples of effective response to COVID-19, with Enock Phale, Malawi’s Deputy Minister for Health, emphasizing his country’s “political will” to overcome vaccine hesitancy.  Not only did the President lead by example in receiving a vaccine, the Government reached out to traditional and religious leaders in order to disseminate information to constituencies, he added.

Osman Sankoh, Sierra Leone’s Statistician General and Chief Executive Officer of Statistics, highlighted the need to reach people living in his country’s rural areas, noting that their lack of access to digital technologies is an impediment on the path to realizing the Sustainable Development Goals.  Despite Sierra Leone’s high rate of mobile phone ownership and use of mobile money, disparities remain in terms of the cost of airtime as well as low financial literacy, he said.

Juan Antonio Perez III, Executive Director of the Philippines National Commission on Population and Development, highlighted his country’s focus on access to sexual and reproductive health and services, pointing to increased use of family planning services during the pandemic as people took pains to avoid unplanned pregnancies.  However, COVID “left an unwanted mark on progress towards attaining the 2030 Agenda”, he said, citing setbacks in efforts to reduce poverty and maternal mortality.

Catarina Furtado, television host and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Goodwill Ambassador from Portugal, said 30 years of progress on the issue of women’s contraception was lost seemingly overnight as a result of the pandemic.  Pointing out more than 200 million women cannot gain access to contraceptives, she underscored the need to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted and every childbirth is safe.

During the afternoon segment, the Commission continued its general discussion, with delegates highlighting demographic changes, challenges and opportunities in their respective countries.

Japan’s representative emphasized that the trend of global ageing requires a shift in international population policies.  Noting that life expectancy in her country has continued to increase, she stressed that “it is crucial to realize healthy and active ageing and to ensure the sustainability of income security for older persons”.

Delegates also highlighted inequalities exacerbated by exclusion.

Israel’s representative noted that women and girls continue to face unequal access to financial resources, saying that not only hamstrings their independence, but also stymies their participation in political and economic arenas.  That, in turn, will place limits on achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals on gender equality, she said.

Argentina’s representative emphasized the need to remove all barriers keeping women from entering the workforce.  Furthermore, greater value must be placed on unpaid care work, which represents the main barrier confronting women’s efforts to access employment, she said.

Canada’s youth delegate stressed:  “We must do more to improve girls’ and women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services and quality education,” saying that would enable them to live safer and more productive lives.

Germany’s representative said that only when women can freely decide to marry — or not to marry — and whether to have children or not, will they be able to participate in society on an equal footing.  She added that adolescents and other young people must have access to comprehensive sexuality education so that they can make informed decisions about their own futures.

The Gambia’s representative described his country’s efforts to increase women’s access to work by creating the new Gender Ministry, and its policy to combat violence against women and girls.  He also highlighted the Government’s initiatives to support young people, including its creation of the National Youth Council, and the National Youth Policy covering the period 2019-2028.

Also speaking were representatives of Qatar, Moldova, Haiti, Saudi Arabia, United States, Thailand, Belgium, New Zealand, Iran, Bulgaria, Russian Federation, Morocco, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, El Salvador, Burkina Faso, Bhutan, Mozambique, Portugal, Finland, Chile, Burundi, Suriname and Algeria.

An observer for the Holy See also spoke.

Representatives of the League of Arab States, Partners in Population and Development and International Planned Parenthood Federation also spoke.

The Commission on Population and Development will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 27 April, to hold another virtual panel discussion.

Panel 2

The Commission’s second panel examined how implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) can contribute to recovery from the pandemic and to advancing realization of the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goals 4 (education) and 5 (gender equality).

Moderated by Commission Vice-Chair Mayra Lisseth Sorto (El Salvador), the discussion featured presentations by the following panellists:  Enock Phale, Deputy Minister for Health Malawi; Catarina Furtado, television host and United Nations Population Fund (UNFP) Goodwill Ambassador, Portugal; Osman Sankoh, Statistician General and Chief Executive Officer of Statistics, Sierra Leone; Juan António Perez III, Executive Director, National Commission on Population and Development, Philippines; and Dalia Marquez, Co-Founder, Youth United in Action and Global Focal Point, United Nations major group for children and youth.

Mr. PHALE, in response to a question about the impacts of the pandemic on health care in Malawi, as well as vaccine access, said most health workers were infected throughout the Government’s efforts to manage the pandemic.  The Government demonstrated strong political will in its vaccination efforts, with the President receiving his does and thereby motivating many people to be vaccinated as well, he said, adding that the Government also reached out to religious and traditional leaders as well as parliamentarians to get the message about the vaccine out to constituencies.

Mr. SANKOH, asked about the pre-pandemic digital divide, which has deepened and exacerbated socioeconomic inequalities, especially in developing countries, emphasized that the widening will not be “the new face of inequality” because it has existed for a long time in Africa and will continue as long as socioeconomic inequalities exist.  Programmes are needed to help households acquire the basic equipment needed to use digital services, he said.  Financial institutions need support to devise new ways to reach remote areas, especially with branches in rural areas, he added.  In Sierra Leone, for instance, with most of its population in rural areas, the Government has implemented free quality education to enable every child, male and female, to attend school without paying tuition fees at public schools.  Parents and guardians are supported with textbooks and a school-feeding initiative to help poor children.  He went on to note that Statistics Sierra Leone recruited 14,500 field staff and, despite initial challenges, they have all opened bank accounts.  There is a high rate of mobile phone ownership and use of mobile money, he said.  Yet challenges remain around the use of different financial services, lack of access to mobile phones, the cost of airtime, as well as low financial literacy and relevant infrastructure for financial services.  The gender dimension is glaring as more males have access to digital equipment due to higher literacy rates among males than females, he said, adding that both Government and non-governmental agencies are implementing programmes targeting the education of girls.  The Government hopes that in the near future, as more females go to school, more women will play critical roles in the digital sphere.

Ms. FURTADO, what key actions by Member States and the international community can accelerate progress towards gender equality, especially in the context of building back better from COVID, said the international community must work extra hard to reach the goals set in Cairo and Nairobi.  Describing sex as the driving force behind development, she emphasized the need to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted and every childbirth is safe.  With more than 200 million women unable to access contraception and girls still forced into child marriages, Member States must ensure the sexual and reproductive rights of their people, she said.  Women should be at the table with microphones and opportunities to lead in planning, negotiations and decision-making, and Member States must ensure a gender perspective to efforts at building back from the pandemic.  She went on to state that Portugal, as a European country, owes a debt of gratitude to UNFPA for the support and investment it made back in the 1970s.  Portugal is a country in which it is safe to get pregnant and to be born, she declared.

Mr. PEREZ, asked what key lessons and good practices can be shared with countries seeking to integrate population and development dimensions into their voluntary national reviews, said the Philippines National Review highlights some successes in the Goals but not so much in maternal mortality.  The Government has made a priority of access to sexual and reproductive health and services, he said, highlighting the importance of the democratic dividend.  Maternal mortality rates and infant mortality rates have declined, but the pandemic has left an unwanted mark on progress towards meeting the 2030 Agenda.  He noted that there were setbacks in the last two years in terms of poverty reduction, and there was also an excess rise in mortality due to COVID-19 and the relative weakness of the health system.  Use of family planning increased in 2020 as people avoided unplanned pregnancies during the crisis, he said.

Ms. MARQUEZ, was asked for a youth perspective on the key actions to prevent the recovery from the pandemic to returning to the pre-crisis development patterns, and how young people are changing their lifestyles to combat climate change and environmental degradation, said highlighted the fact that 65 per cent of young people in high-income countries were able to attend classes delivered by video-conference, while only 18 per cent were able to pursue their studies online in low-income countries.  Throughout the planet, young people have joined in efforts to promote action against climate change, she said, pointing out that young early-career scientists are focusing their research on developing alternative clean technologies.

In a second round of questions, the Moderator asked what methods developed and developing countries can take to address unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, and to give examples of youth organizations that have successfully advocated for change.

Ms. MARQUEZ emphasized that Governments must stop investing in production systems that threaten the environment.  It is also important to reduce subsidies that promote polluting industries, such as extractive activities or polluting energies.  Another measure would be to promote, through investment, the development of technologies for sustainable production, she said.  She went on to stress that the permanent presence of young people in global decision-making processes and the inclusion of their recommendations and contributions in such forums such as the United Nations Environment Assembly is essential.

Mr. PEREZ, asked about population and development national priorities in the context of building back better in the post-pandemic era and in accelerating realization of the Sustainable Development Goals, said one priority should be developing national demographic health services.  He cautioned Governments against viewing the crisis of the last two years as a national security rather than a of a development priority.  For countries in a demographic transition like his own, it must not lose sight of what has brought it to its current situation. Its family planning policies focus on adolescent health and birth rates.  It also pays attention to family development.

Mr. SANKOH, asked about Sierra Leone’s experience in disaggregating demographic data, said the Government conducts censuses every 10 years, and in 2021, it implemented the first-ever digital cartographic mapping to provide codes for every locality and eventually the digital census.  It is working on the data, he added.  Sierra Leone was the first to implement the seventh round of the UNICEF-supported Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MIC6 in 2017), which used electronic tablets to collect the data, he revealed, recalling that in 2018, 2019 and 2020, the Government carried out various surveys using electronic tablets and, in 2021, conducted its first digital census.  “Using digital technology in data collection in Sierra Leone makes it possible for us to have disaggregated data with relative ease.”  He said the Government has expanded its Data Science Division to incorporate an Open Data and Data Visualisation Section, focused on providing all disaggregated data on the website over digital platforms for wider public use.  “We will continue to work closely with the international community and with development partners to expand and strengthen our data collection systems,” he pledged.

Ms. FURTADO, asked about good practices in relation to sexual and reproductive health-care services and whether universal access is integral to gender equality, replied that op-ed articles, television documentaries, debates and conferences with parliamentarians can be used to identify ways to amplify the voices and stories of girls and women and refuges and migrants.  The international community must face the growth of populism and disinformation around the world, she said, emphasizing that the protection of and respect for fundamental freedoms and rights must be strengthened.  Calling for legislation and adequate financial and human resources to empower women and girls, she emphasized that during this decade of action and delivery of sustainable development, the international community must gather the financial and economic resources to ensure the fulfilment of the promises of equality and empowerment for women.

Mr. PHALE, asked about Malawi’s progress on access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, said that owing to lessons learned during the pandemic, Malawi has come up with a robust social recovery plan.  It entails creating spaces for the health care system and covers sexual and reproductive health and rights, he added, noting that the Government wants to strengthen its outreach health-care services so as to meet people where and reduce barriers to access.  It has also started scaling up its digital messaging so that people can receive information on health care, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, he added.

Interactive Debate

In the ensuing dialogue, the panellists responded to comments and questions from representatives of Governments and civil society groups.

The representative of the Russian Federation said that — without downplaying COVID’s serious negative impact — the pandemic led to a number of positive developments.  It caused the strengthening of the network of infectious-disease laboratories and contributed to the digitalization of health care.

The representative of Egypt said the “Egypt 2030” initiative to accelerate economic growth and sustainable development has at its heart an ambitious programme to revamp rural communities.  Known as the “Decent Life” initiative, it promotes education, nutrition and gender equality, among other areas.

The speaker representing the International Medical Students Association asked how successful actions and initiatives can be transferred to countries that are seeing limited action.

Ms. FURTADO, responding, said the rights of women and young people must be placed at the heart of decisions and budget priorities in order to achieve three transformative goals:  zero unmet family planning needs; zero forms of discrimination and violence based on gender; and zero preventable maternal deaths.

Mr. SANKHO, addressing the pandemic’s impact in Sierra Leone, said it was fortunate that the Government took very early steps in response.  Having learned from Ebola, the coordination system worked very well when COVID arrived, although the health system was weak.  He went on to point out that the pandemic did not manifest itself in most of Africa as it did in other countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom.

Mr. PHARE said Malawi has a big opportunity to build on lessons learned during the pandemic.  The pandemic has taught Malawi that treatment centres for infectious disease must be established, he added.

Ms. MARQUEZ applauded all actions in favour of the 2030 Agenda’s implementation and the promotion of a sustainable post-COVID recovery.

Mr. PEREZ said one of COVID’s positive impacts is that it has advanced work on infectious diseases.  However, that has compelled the health sector to fight the current pandemic while facing other health issues that have not diminished over time.

A speaker representing Action by Churches Together (ACT), a collation working in 120 countries around the world for rights-based action, said that to build back better from the pandemic must entail justice, recalling that he saw the impact of pandemic-related injustice while working in the United Republic of Tanzania.

The representative of Morocco said COVID-19 disrupted her country’s health-care system and it has established a parallel service for vaccination screening and the dissemination of information on the pandemic.  She also noted that increasing access sexual and reproduction health services made it possible for women to take over family planning for themselves.

Mr. PHALE commended the work carried out by faith-based institutions, which provide many health-care services in Malawi.

Ms. FURTADO called for the strengthening of budgets and the promotion of good practices in order to encourage donor States to work with academia and civil society.

Mr. SANKHO emphasized the critical importance of quality data, saying Sierra Leone’s experience is that it must use digital technologies in the collection of data, which makes it initially expensive to get the equipment and train the workers, but goes a long way towards improving data quality.

Mr. PEREZ said countries should use statistics in feedback about the Sustainable Development Goals, adding that the work of the Statistical Commission within the Economic and Social Council could be helpful in this regard.

Ms. MARQUEZ said young people globally are concerned, yet hopeful, about the future and sustainable development.  Describing youth and youth-led organizations as an asset in global efforts to realize sustainable development, she pointed out that young people make up 40 per cent of the world’s population and are at the forefront of the environmental crisis.  Their voices must be present in all decision-making processes, she emphasized.


SALEH BIN MOHAMMAD AL NABET, President of the Planning and Statistics Authority of Qatar, said his country aims to balance population growth with the requirements of sustainable development, an approach that has led to important accomplishments in health, education, social services delivery and other crucial areas.  Qatar continues to provide decent living standards for more than 2 million migrant labourers and their families, he added.  Improvements in the health sector have allowed Qatar to respond well to COVID and helped to raise life expectancy from 75.7 years in 2008 to 80.2 years in 2020, he noted.  Outlining strides in education, he said women and girls are guaranteed learning and more women than men are enrolled in the State university.

Mr. POPOV (Republic of Moldova), spotlighting the repercussions of the Russian Federation’s aggression in Ukraine, noted that his country has welcomed 450,000 refugees — about 15 per cent of the country’s total population — providing them with shelter, food, protection and safe passage to third countries.  However, he cautioned, that comes with costs that squeeze resources previously allocated to the Republic of Moldova’s long-term development priorities.  He went on to recall that the Government’s recent efforts to put people’s dignity and well-being at the centre of its sustainable and inclusive development initiatives are challenged by a trend through which the population has dropped about 10 per cent through outward migration and a drop in fertility.  Among measures to reverse that trend are new investments in health, education and employment opportunities — as well as efforts by the National Bureau of Statistics to provide accurate and reliable data on both population and migration, he said.

Mr. BEAUGE (Haiti), noting that his country’s social and economic development has been hindered by many social crises and disasters, said the Government has made a decision to advance a programme of inclusive growth.  The crisis in the South has not been properly appreciated as the Government makes a priority of health and recovering from the pandemic, he added.  To combat poverty, the Government is tackling the Sustainable Development Goals with determination, he emphasized, saying it is working to help teenagers and other young people and reduce obstacles to inclusive growth.  Haiti is working with donors and encouraging partnerships with civil society and the private sector, he added.

LANG YABOU (Gambia), said meaningful action begins by addressing the changes in population trends that have far-reaching consequences for macroeconomic growth, fiscal sustainability, and social inclusion, particularly as the country emerges from the pandemic.  He said the Government has made strategies and initiatives that support young people a priority in the National Development Plan 2018-2021 and other national blueprints, citing the National Youth Council and formulated the National Youth Policy (2019-2028).  To provide work opportunities for women, it created a new Gender Ministry, promulgated the Women’s Act, and the gender policy to fight violence against women and girls at the local, regional and national levels, he noted.  The Gambia also made significant strides towards fulfilling the promises of Cairo, achieving the global goals and fulfilling the Agenda 2063, he said.  While the pandemic has exposed the health care system’s vulnerability and adversely impacted its efforts for sustained and inclusive economic growth, real GDP growth is projected at 3.2 per cent in 2021 and 5.1 per cent in 2022, he noted.

REIKO HAYASHI, Deputy Director-General of the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research of Japan, said the trend of global ageing requires a shift in international population policies.  Noting that the proportion of people older than 65 in Japan is 29.8 per cent, the highest in the country’s history and among the world’s countries, he said life expectancy has continued to increase, even during the pandemic.  “Under such conditions, it is crucial to realize healthy and active ageing and to ensure the sustainability of income security for older persons,” she said, noting that the Government is continuously reforming its health, pension and long-term care systems.  She went on to state that Japan’s total fertility rate is declining, necessitating reform of its migration policies.  The “Comprehensive Measures for Acceptance and Coexistence of Foreign Nationals” policy is now revised annually, she said, explaining that implementation of those measures is essential to create a society rich in diversity.

MOHAMMED ABDULAZIZ H. ALATEEK (Saudi Arabia) said his country’s 2030 Vision focuses on population, including the participation of women in the labour force and reducing unemployment.  Most of the Government’s plans seek to establish a society of high living standards and safe family life and excellent health care services.  Sustainability is another main element of the 2030 Vision and the effort to realize the Sustainable Development Goals, he added.  The Government has launched the green Saudi initiative to reduce carbon emissions by 2030, as well as a reforestation initiation that will plant trees in the country and throughout the Middle East, he affirmed.  Outlining measures taken in response to the pandemic, he said the Government provided a stimulus package that guarantees 60 per cent of the salaries of private-sector employees impacted by the crisis.

MARÍA DEL CARMEN SQUEFF (Argentina), noting that the pandemic has further deepened divides between and within countries, emphasized that an inclusive new economic system must ensure that boys and girls stay in school and that productive work is guaranteed for all genders.  Barriers to women in the workforce must be eliminated, she said, adding that unpaid domestic work must be valued.  Describing unpaid work as the principal barrier keeping women from gaining access to employment and training, she called for the promotion of initiatives to address care in order to bring about social justice.  She went on to predict that in the coming decades the economies of middle-income countries will need greater access to technologies and support from developed countries.

LISA A. CARTY (United States), associating herself with the statement delivered on 25 April by the representative of Mexico, said three areas merit particular attention in discussing sustainable, inclusive economic growth.  First, women and girls are held back without the ability to make decisions about their own health or futures.  They must be provided access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, and the opportunity to pursue decent work with labour protections, she emphasized.  Next, more attention must be paid to young people and more data collected, on adolescent girls in particular, she said, noting that women and girls continue to face systemic challenges, exacerbated by COVID-19, as they continue to shoulder an unequal share of unpaid care work.  She went on to urge the Commission to focus on unique drivers of inclusive economic growth, and on the integral links between education and inclusive growth, and to ensure that those links are reflected in the theme of next year’s session.

Ms. BASAH (Israel), associating herself with the Nexus joint statement, said her country’s population is expected to double by 2050, and if that trend continues, Israel is on track to become the most crowded developed country on the planet.  She went on to note that women and girls continue to face unequal access to economic resources, which limit their participation in the social, political, and economic spheres, as well as their independence, contrary to the goal of gender equality.  Emphasizing that efforts to recover from the pandemic must be gender-responsive, she called for the protection and fulfilment of provisions on sexual and reproductive health services.  She went on to note that Israel has made huge advances in gender equality, with women playing leading roles in society and the economy.

SURIYA CHINDAWONGSE (Thailand) said population and development are interlinked with three important processes:  sustained and inclusive economic growth; building back better and greener after the pandemic; and accelerating implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  Underlining his country’s long-standing human-centred approach, he said Thailand’s population will be considered a “fully aged society” — with almost 30 per cent of its population 60 years and above — by 2037.  At the same time, the country has a sizeable youth population that continues to enter the labour force, he said.  Thailand is also working to implement a Bio-Circular-Green Economy Model, intended to achieve sustained growth while ensuring environmental conservation, he noted, explaining that it uses advanced technology in such catalytic sectors as food and agriculture, health, bioenergy, tourism and the creative economy to boost growth and promote decent work for all.  He went on to outline other initiatives covering life-long learning and decent social protection for all, saying the National Economic and Social Development Plan, which highlights human resources development from childhood to retirement.

The representative of Belgium said it is essential to lay the groundwork for inclusive economic growth and to prevent discrimination, including against freedom of association and the right of workers to collective organization.  Belgium is committed to eliminating all forms of sexual violence, including in the workplace, he added.  The Government is also committed to valuing unpaid and domestic work and to making a priority of social protection policies, such as high-quality social services of childcare and parental leave.  Describing young people as key change agents who can make significant contributions, he emphasized that their needs must be guaranteed and that youth must also participate in decision-making.  He went on to state that the full participation of women and girls, and their enjoyment of all human rights, is essential, stressing that Belgium is committed to championing the right of women and girls to make decisions about their own bodies and futures.

The representative of Canada reaffirmed her country’s support for the implementation of the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action and the outcomes of its review conferences, as well as the 2030 Agenda, before turning the floor over to a youth delegate.

HANI RUKH E QAMAR, Youth Delegate from Canada, noted that as the Russian Federation continues its unprovoked and unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine, with widespread humanitarian consequences, including the senseless deaths of thousands of civilians, COVID-19 has amplified pre-existing inequalities, particularly for women and girls, marginalized groups and individuals in situations of vulnerability.  Conflict, climate change, food insecurity and malnutrition, biodiversity loss, and ecosystem degradation are also major challenges threatening humanity, she said, pointing out that they disproportionately impact indigenous peoples and those who have contributed least to the climate emergency.  Emphasizing the need for full, equal and meaningful participation of women, she called for breaking down systemic barriers, including social norms that give rise to human rights violations.  “We must do more to improve girls’ and women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services and quality education,” she stressed, affirming that such actions contribute to better health outcomes and empower young people to live healthy, safe and productive lives.

CAROLYN SCHWALGER (New Zealand), expressing concern that COVID-19 threatened hard-won gains in the struggle for universal access to the full range of safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of contraception, as well as safe and legal access to abortion, noted that in many countries, access to quality family planning information and services remains limited, and preventable maternal and infant mortality is high.  Calling upon the Commission to ensure that sexual and reproductive health and rights remain central to its work, she emphasized her country’s commitment to empowering women to lead independent and self-determining lives, including through the ability to decide freely whether and when to have children.  She said examples of that commitment include:  extending parental leave payments to six months; enabling paid bereavement leave in the event of a miscarriage or stillbirth; providing equitable access to quality methods of contraception; decriminalizing abortion; providing comprehensive sexuality education; and allowing pay equity claims for work that may be subject to systemic sex-based discrimination.  Like all countries, New Zealand still has work to do, she stressed.

ZAHRA ERSHADI (Iran), noting that COVID continues to severely exacerbate vulnerabilities and inequalities in many societies, with devastating impacts on sustainable development and humanitarian needs, said the crisis demonstrated the importance of pooling efforts and placing vulnerable people at the centre of responses.  In such a context, unilateral coercive measures seriously jeopardize the economic growth of the targeted countries and hamper their access to basic medical items, endangering the lives and health of their citizens, she emphasized, demanding the full and immediate lifting of the sanctions imposed on it.  She went on to state that Iran continues to press forward with its National Development Plan, which prioritizes attention to youth, older persons and women, as well as reform of the health sector under way to realize the target of universal health coverage.  Meanwhile, Iran hosts more than 5 million refugees, she pointed out, adding that it remains dedicated to its humanitarian commitments.

Ms. RUSKI (Bulgaria), associating herself with Mexico, noted the pandemic’s devastating impact on the race to realize the Sustainable Development Goals, while emphasizing that the full realization of human rights for all — including sexual and reproductive health and rights — are key to fulfilling the 2030 Agenda.  Noting that female employment fell as a faster rate than male employment during the pandemic, she said Bulgaria’s employment promotion act provides benefits to encourage employers to address that imbalance.  She went on to report that Bulgaria, in cooperation with UNFPA, organized a conference on demographic resilience in December 2021.

KARIN GOEBEL (Germany) highlighted the importance of women’s rights in the quest for sustainable economic growth, emphasizing that only when they can decide freely if and whom to marry, as well as if to have children, can they be able to play an equal role in society.  The need to prioritize the reproductive health and rights of adolescents and youth cannot be ignored, as young people need access to comprehensive sexuality education in order to make informed decisions about their futures, she said.  The impacts of the triple crisis of conflict, climate and COVID-19 is most severe on the most vulnerable, she pointed out, stressing that a gender-responsive pandemic recovery plan is imperative.

IVAN G. KONSTANTINOPOLSKIY (Russian Federation) noted the stark rise in the number of people living in extreme poverty, the decline in global trade levels and the drop in agricultural production, all resulting from the pandemic.  Against that backdrop, and in light of declining birth rates in many countries, he said, the Russian Federation proposes that the United Nations focus more on measures to support families.  He went on to state that his country’s policies are grounded in providing families with direct material assistance in the form of one-time and periodic payments, as well as labour protections.  It also provides monthly payments to low-income families and single parents, he added.  Pointing out that countries with dwindling populations face challenges when targeted by unilateral coercive economic sanctions, he expressed regret that the matter of Ukraine was raised yet again during today’s meeting.  He stressed that his delegation will not address the special military operation except to point out that the macroeconomic challenges now facing the planet result from sanctions recklessly imposed on Moscow by countries that gave no thought to their impact on the rest of the world.  He called upon delegates to refrain from further politicizing the Commission.

MERYEM HAMDOUNI (Morocco) said the session’s theme is fully aligned with her country’s national plan for the medium and long terms.  By putting the human component at its centre, the Kingdom has launched a new model while capitalizing on its achievements of the last 20 years, she said, adding that its emphasis includes green energy and social programmes.  Noting that climate risks will create new risks for her country’s agriculture and fisheries sector, she said Morocco is determined to regenerate forests, support the agriculture sector and transition to clean energy.  Enhancing sexual and reproductive health is another key component of Morocco’s strategy, she said, adding that the Government will work with all departments to provide access to information and services.  She went on to point out that young people make up one quarter of her country’s population and to stress that their needs must be met.

OMAR CASTAÑEDA SOLARES (Guatemala) called for stronger statistical and data systems and encouraged the United Nations to support national and regional efforts in that area.  He said his country is working to protect individuals and families, to reactivate its economy, to create jobs and to expand trade.  Greater support for developing countries, including middle-income countries, will help them realize the Sustainable Development Goals, he said.  He went on to state that, as a country with a high percentage of young people, Guatemala knows the importance of quality education.  Further, the Government is calling for greater protection of the human rights of migrants and their families, he affirmed, while emphasizing the need to create economic prosperity for all and to create jobs.

PETER MOHAN MAITHRI PIERIS (Sri Lanka) reiterated his country’s commitment to delivering inclusive, equitable and sustainable development, while respecting and protecting individual rights, freedom and dignity, as recognized in the Cairo Programme of Action.  Citing the correlation between population and development, he said Sri Lanka’s development policy is based on the goals of a productive citizenry, a contented family, a disciplined and just society and a prosperous nation.  In responding to COVID-19, he recalled, the Government enacted measures to protect the most vulnerable in society, including older persons.  During lockdowns, the Government was sensitive to the possibility of gender-based violence, psychosocial challenges and other pitfalls, and took mitigating steps well ahead of time, he added.  He went on to say that in other areas, the national policy aims to harness the contribution of women to the labour force by regulating, standardizing and expanding childcare facilities, introducing flexible working arrangements for young mothers and home-based enterprises — with the required assistance — for rural women.

EGRISELDA ARACELY GONZÁLEZ LÓPEZ (El Salvador), expressing hope for an action-oriented outcome from the session, said her country’s population is shifting from mainly young to one that will soon be mainly old.  In response, she added, El Salvador is shifting its attention from plans that care for teenagers and other young people to ones that care for older persons, which requires new investment as well as efforts to address systemic poverty and exclusion.  Recognizing that demographic change as an opportunity rather than a threat, she said, the Government continues to care for young people, including through an early childhood policy focused on health and nutrition, education and care, the protective environment and respect for children’s rights.

SEYDOU SINKA (Burkina Faso) said the session’s theme is both relevant and topical as the global population continues to grow, and with countries around the world still reeling from the COVID fallout.  Emphasizing that sustained economic growth is vital to stamping out poverty, he said Burkina Faso hopes to harness its young population and the demographic dividend to jump-start green, inclusive growth, adding that the promotion of human capital guides much of the national development policy.  Outlining significant recent drops in fertility, maternal mortality and infant and child mortality rates, he said the country also made great strides in reducing poverty and increasing school enrolment rates.  However, many challenges remain, he cautioned.  At the global level, he called for all discussions on population and development to take into account the religious and cultural specificities of countries and to respect the differences between peoples.

SONAM CHODEN NAMGYEL (Bhutan), noting that the session’s theme “could not be more relevant” as the world’s population recovers from the pandemic, said her country is on track in its commitments under the Cairo Programme of Action.  The National Gender Equality Policy envisions equal opportunities for both genders and the “Accelerating Maternal and Child Health Policy” will provide maternity allowance to mothers without income until the child reaches two years of age, she said.  A flagship health programme on eliminating the gastric, cervical and breast cancer is under way and comprehensive sexuality education has been integrated into the formal education curriculum.  She went on to note that in a span of just 30 years, Bhutan’s fertility rate changed dramatically from 6 births per woman to 1.7 births per woman.  Meanwhile, life expectancy doubled, and today, nearly half of Bhutan’s population is under 24 years old, she affirmed.  The Government is working to harness the first demographic dividend through skills training and personal development programmes, she added.

Mr. COMMISARIO (Mozambique) said that the meeting is taking place in a particularly challenging time when the world is still suffering under the devastating pandemic.  Despite COVID and other global crises, he added, Mozambique kept its focus on reinforcing its commitments under the Cairo Programme of Action and reaffirmed its continued engagement during that event’s twenty-fifth anniversary.  In that context, he said, the Government increased women’s participation in leadership and decision-making forums, and also approved and implemented a law against child and early marriage.  It has also implemented country-wide initiatives to empower young people through financial support for youth entrepreneurship initiatives, he added.  The Government continues its efforts to eliminate gender-based violence, extend access to modern family planning efforts, and increase the participation of youth in the economy and decision-making processes, he affirmed.

EDUARDO RAMOS (Portugal), associating himself with the Cross-Regional Joint Statement delivered by Mexico, said his country recorded a 94 per cent drop in infant mortality — twice the average decrease in the European Union as a whole — between 1970 and 2008.  It also launched a national campaign to combat child, early and forced marriage, he added.  Affirming that Portugal prioritizes education on sexual and reproductive health care, he said that sexuality education is now part of the national curricula.  Turning to the challenge of population ageing, he said that by 2050, the share of the population over 65 years old is expected to reach 27 per cent in high-income countries.  “However, demographic change should be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat,” he emphasized, calling for efforts to maximize the benefits by fine-tuning existing policies and through human capital investments in health, education, empowerment and decent employment for all.  He went on to state that Portugal devotes more than one third of its bilateral development assistance — around 35 per cent — to initiatives promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women around the globe.

Ms. MAJA (Finland), condemning the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine, said the latter’s civilian population, including 9.4 million young women and girls, have suffered severely and many have lost their lives.  Reports of sexual violence against women and girls continue to emerge, she added.  As a member of the Human Rights Council, Finland promotes access to sexual and reproductive health rights, she affirmed, emphasizing that access to abortion is crucial to ensuring that young people stay in school and continue their education.  She went on to stress that providing comprehensive sexuality education is key for women to be agents of change and active decision makers on their own futures.

Ms. TELLO (Chile), endorsing the statement delivered by Mexico, said the Commission must examine the progress made since the Cairo Programme of Action to ensure everyone has access to the same opportunities and sexual and reproductive health.  Noting that micro, small and medium-size enterprises are at the heart of development efforts, she emphasized that women need improved access to decent work and greater participation in the formal economy.  She said that, with demographics indicating greater life expectancy, there is need for policies to promote healthy ageing.  Chile supports the United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing (2021-2030) as a way to change the way people feel about ageing and to ensure that communities help people age in healthy ways.

ZÉPHYRIN MANIRATANGA (Burundi) said his country’s Government is developing a national policy that accounts for changing demographics in order to ensure a sustainable, multi-sector approach to inclusive development.  Emphasizing that the development of young people is very important, he said family planning is a strategic intervention for the well-being of women and to serve as a catalyst for the eradication of poverty.  The Government is carrying out the 2022 census and part of the statistics operation will be digitized, which will give provide improved statistics on housing and population in municipalities around the country, he said.  The census will be an essential source of exhaustive data since the last count in 2008, he added, affirming that updated statistics help Government assessments of progress as well as national and regional planning efforts.

GARICIA ROMAN (Suriname) said her country’s Government is committed to involving the entire population in sustainable development, noting that, as the world slowly enters the post-pandemic era, many countries have taken steps towards normalization, which is also crucial for Suriname.  The country has seen an economic crisis that caused the currency to plummet, leaving it in a fragile position that threatens realization of the Sustainable Development Goals, she added.  “Therefore, our efforts are focused on the restoration of the damage,” she emphasized, thanking Suriname’s partners for their support and pledging to press forward with the National Development Plan.  It is critical that the world continues in the spirit of the Cairo Programme of Action, she stressed.

RIADH MESSAAD (Algeria) said his country is focused on women’s empowerment, and has enshrined non-discrimination and equality in all its domestic laws and international commitments.  Women’s access to the labour market and economic opportunities were included in the reformed Constitution, approved in November 2020, and the Government is committed to protecting women in both the professional and private spheres, he added.  However, women and girls still face many challenges and adherence to the Beijing Platform for Action remains crucial, he emphasized, noting that, although the exceptional circumstances arising from COVID posed particular challenges for women, they also highlighted their special role in the recovery.  He went on to stress that Algeria supports its youth through efforts to improve wages and provide grants to unemployed young people, adding that the Government is making critical reforms of the health sector and improving health insurance.

GABRIELE CACCIA, Permanent Observer for the Holy See, said sustained economic growth must be based on comprehensive measures to invest in the integral development of every human person.  Despite the inherent worth of every person, however, many policies continue to reflect a view of the human being as an obstacle to development or a problem to be managed, rather than a valuable resource, he noted.  As for the suggestion by some that population growth is the main driver of poverty, and that strategies to reduce fertility are therefore the answer, he stressed that reducing the number of people born into poverty “is in no way the same as reducing poverty itself”.  Similarly, increasing life expectancy rates and the consequent growth in the proportion of older persons contributes to the perception that older people are a burden to society, he said, describing that notion as a utilitarian view that reduces a person’s values to what he or she produces.  “The violation of the inherent and inalienable right of every person to life is never the answer to challenges arising from sustainable development, nor is it a means to achieve economic growth,” he stressed.

NASRIA ELARDJA FLITTI, speaking on behalf of the League of Arab States, said Arab countries are witnessing demographic changes and, whereas some, like Tunisia and Lebanon, are about to exit that transformation, others will experience demographic changes until 2050.  It contributes to collaboration among countries through the sharing of experiences and capabilities, she said, adding that Arab countries have been investing in the materials needed for economic growth.  She emphasized that it is time to increase investments in human capital and to seize the enormous opportunities provided by the demographic window in the region.  Noting that growing poverty and unemployment rates are being witnessed in Arab countries, particularly among young people, she said social protection is an investment in human capital and in social and economic development.

ADNENE BEN HAJ AISSA, Executive Director, Partners in Population and Development, said that over the past 27 years, the group’s member countries have achieved remarkable progress in improving their demographic and health indicators through high-level national commitments and effective South-South and Triangular Cooperation programmes.  Those programmes helped contribute to declining fertility, falling maternal-and-under-five mortality rates and improving use of contraception, she added.  Recalling that the Call to Action from the eighteenth International Inter-Ministerial Conference, held virtually in November 2021, reaffirmed her organization’s commitment to the goals and principles of the Cairo Programme of Action and other global goals, she said they also resolved to translate those commitments into reality by including them in their national development agendas, with concrete actions to attain universal access to reproductive health and leave no one behind.  The organization’s member countries and their partners are also committed to moving towards universal health coverage, with a specific focus on sexual and reproductive health services for men, women, adolescents and youth, she said.  They are also committed to greater investment in technical and financial resources and to forging multi-bilateral agreements on the exchange of best practices, products and services among member countries.  They are also working to resolve common challenges and to reinforce existing national task forces for the integration of South-South and Triangular cooperation programmes.

Ms. TESFAYE, International Planned Parenthood Federation, said this year’s theme presents an opportunity to integrate population into development strategies and address the links between population and sustained and inclusive economic growth as well as poverty.  Gender equality and human rights, particularly sexual and reproductive health and rights, have profound implications for social development and sustained and inclusive economic growth, she emphasized.  Among its recommendations, the Federation urges Governments to ensure they implement comprehensive sexuality education programmes and enforce legislation that eliminates sexual and gender-based violence, she said, adding that such an approach should include laws that address the many intersecting forms of discrimination and violence, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.  Those rights should also be included in regulatory frameworks that support women’s access to decent work, and policies that shift and redistribute the burden of unpaid care work from women, she said, adding that those frameworks should be expanded across the formal and informal economies.

For information media. Not an official record.