Fifty-seventh Session,
2nd Meeting* (AM)

Spotlighting ‘Great Progress’ over 30 Years, Speakers Note ‘Unfinished Business’ as Population and Development Commission Opens Session

Highlighting progress in gender equality, life expectancy and access to reproductive and health services since the landmark 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, speakers renewed calls for greater efforts to uphold the rights of all to health, education and jobs, as the Commission on Population and Development opened its annual session today.

“We have achieved great progress in 30 years, and we must celebrate the glass that is some full,” said Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations at the fifty-seventh session of the Commission, which runs through 3 May under the theme:  “Assessing the status of implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and its contribution to the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development during the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”.

Ms. Mohammed said that the world’s population now stands at over 8.1 billion, up from 5.6 billion in 1994, underscoring that today fewer women die in pregnancy and childbirth, child mortality risks have fallen, access to reproductive health-care services has risen and rates of adolescent pregnancy have declined.

However, 164 million women of reproductive age around the world lack access to family planning services, she pointed out, urging:  “We must respond and push back when women’s rights are being eroded and when migrants and other vulnerable populations are mistreated.”  Pointing to the tragedies in Sudan and Gaza, she said:  “We need to find our moral compass and come back to the rights of all women and young women and children in these tragic times.”

Natalia Kanem, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), recalled that, by wisely placing women and girls at the centre of development, the promise of the 1994 Cairo Conference is playing out in the lives of millions of girls with ripple effects across society.  Girls have reached parity with boys in primary school enrolment and now exceed boys in post-secondary enrolment.  Noting steady progress in women’s representation in Government, she said:  “Not a single parliament or congress today is male-only.”

Spotlighting the women and girls whom UNFPA has served on the ground in some 130 countries, she said Tocosana from Mozambique was able to escape early marriage and early childbearing, now mentors other girls in her community and dreams of becoming a doctor.  Magali of Bolivia founded SELF-DISCOVER(ED), an award-winning project which provides comprehensive sexuality education to indigenous and first-generation students to combat high teen pregnancy rates and help end sexual abuse.  “Yet there is still unfinished business,” she underscored, noting that annual reductions in maternal deaths have flatlined since 2016 and in some countries, maternal death rates have increased.  Millions of women today still lack the economic power to invest in themselves and their families, she added, stating:  “When we invest in women and girls, everyone gains.”

She called for greater progress to end gender-based violence and femicide once and for all, and detailed UNFPA’s efforts to accelerate progress on sexual and reproductive health and rights and strengthen mechanisms for youth engagement.  “Women and girls are requesting action.  They are counting on us, and they cannot afford to wait yet another 30 years.  Forward in partnership, together!” she urged.

“Development should not mean privilege for a few and poverty for the many,” underscored Noemi Espinoza Madrid (Honduras), Chair of the Commission, who called for focused efforts on the Global South where implementation of the Programme of Action can have the most profound impact.

Likewise, Li Junhua, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said progress in the least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States will increasingly determine whether global development goals are achieved, as half of the projected global population growth towards 2050 is expected to take place in those countries.

Sarita Gupta, Vice-President, US Programs, Ford Foundation, stressed that the international community cannot achieve sustainable development, or eradicate poverty, violence and discrimination without realizing sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender equality.  Detailing the Foundation’s work to uphold the fundamental right to decide when, how and whether to have children and to ensure women’s continued engagement in multilateral and government spaces, she said:  “We must be bold in action and political will if we are to deliver on the promises of 30 years ago.”

Delivering a keynote address was José Miguel Guzman, President and Founder of NoBrainerData, who elaborated on population decline, very low fertility, rapid ageing and international migration as the four most challenging demographic trends.  To address declining fertility, he said factors that influence women’s or couples’ decision to have children, including the gender social contract that regulates labour, must be re-examined.  Noting that people today live 25 years more than in 1950 when life expectancy was less than 47 years, he said countries must determine how to deal with the growing demand for social services and apply a long-term vision to change the ways individuals and societies invest for their older ages.

Notwithstanding the economic benefits of migration, he said “the highest risk we face today is the increased weaponization of migration in political discourse without considering the economic, demographic and social benefits for the countries involved”.  He urged countries to rely on the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which was endorsed by the General Assembly in 2018, to address that and other migration-related challenges.

The Commission also held a general debate on actions for the further implementation of the Programme of Action at the global, regional and national levels and on assessing the status of its implementation.  In other business, the Commission elected officers of the Commission’s current session and approved its provisional agenda.


* The 1st Meeting was covered in Press Release POP/1109 of 14 April 2023.

For information media. Not an official record.