Today was busy, very busy, spent preparing for the start of the MDG Summit tomorrow. At just before ‘too early o’clock’ we assembled downstairs to start drafting IPPF’s statement which will be delivered at Monday’s Roundtable on Health and Education. However, tiredness combined with pressing engagements ensured we could not complete the task and we decided to reconnoitre later in the day to finalise the text and agree on key messages.
By 9.00 am we were all seated in the Starlight Room of the Waldorf Astoria for the Women Deliver Brunch. The line up of speakers included many of the most impressive names in sexual and reproductive health – both old and new as well as a sprinkling of Ministers, Ambassadors and civil society.
The wonderful Fred Sai spoke with conviction about the rights of women and girls and explained how the Waldorf Astoria was actually built on the site of a Fistula hospital – demolished back in the late 19th century. Graca Machel, one of the UN Secretary General’s MDG advocates went off script and spoke with passion about the importance of gender equality and rights as being central to the attainment of the MDGs. Other speakers, such as Dr Imane Khachani spoke articulately about the importance of, though lack of reference to, young people and adolescents in the MDG framework – and really, can anyone disagree? After all, the Summit outcome document is 27 pages long. Yet there is only one reference in the entire document to adolescents – and that is in relation to employment!
A cynic would say that the solitary reference to adolescents is at least one more than there is to ‘abortion’ – which contains exactly zero mentions! This is quite startling. Especially when we consider that in 2005 nearly half of the world’s population (almost 3 billion people) was under the age of 25, and that some 19 million women annually are forced to risk their health and lives to undergo an unsafe abortion with 70,000 of these women dying as a consequence. Indeed, studies show that up to 80 per cent of women who have an unsafe abortion suffer illness, injury or disability as a result. An estimated 2.5 million adoelscents have unsafe abortions every year and these account for 46 per cent of deaths related to unsafe abortion every year. Adolescent girls aged 10-19 account for 23 per cent of the global burden of disease due to pregnancy and childbirth
As someone said, “the MDGs don’t speak for young people”. Our task therefore is to ensure that they do, though quite how this can be achieved is open to discussion.
Following the Women Deliver brunch we all moved up to the Lincoln Center for the ‘Stand up Against Poverty’ event. This was an event designed to draw attention to the MDGs among the US public at large. And while there were a large number of NGOs present, and the sun shone brilliantly, the number of members of the US general public remained stubbornly and disappointingly low. Despite this, a wealth of knowledge was on show and many people commented on the high quality of information and data available.
It was then time to get ready for the MDG SRHR strategy meeting. The meeting was designed to bring NGOs working across MDGs 3 to 6 up to speed on the MDG process and look to agree on concrete actions to use the brief time left to advocate for greater reference to sexual and reproductive health and rights in official statements being made by governments at the Summit from tomorrow onwards.
Debates within the group also touched briefly on what should be included in statements from those fortunate enough to be selected for participation within the Round table process – and let’s not forget that civil society is grossly under-represented in the official Summit processes. For example, while there may be well over 3,000 + civil society organizations in consultative status with the ECOSOC, only 24 have been selected to participate during the roundtables – and of course, participation in this sense does not mean that the CSOs will actually be given the opportunity to participate in any meaningful way – let alone speak – as protocol dictates that member states must be given the opportunity to engage before civil society, UN agencies, the private sector and so on. And if time runs out and the session has to close before civil society can utter a word …. then so be it.
Finally, we are back to the hotel to refocus on the statement for tomorrow’s round table event. But the witching hour is soon upon us and we agree, and with very heavy eyes, to reconvene in the morning.