Nairobi, Kenya — Natalia Kanem, executive director of UNFPA, had a strong statement at the opening of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25) in Nairobi, Kenya, on November 12: "Reproductive and sexual health rights for women and girls are not up for negotiation, and we will protect and defend them".
The firmness of Kanem's words inform the commitment of the UN agency and its partners to move forward despite the progress made, 25 years after, in the fight against gender-based violence, maternal and infant mortality, child marriage, schooling for girls, access to family planning.
"Since Cairo (ICPD held in 1994), maternal mortality is down 44%. Four million women in the world are still alive today who otherwise would have died during pregnancy or childbirth, a good reason to celebrate."
But Kanem went on to say that "good progress is not good enough".
"While I'm standing here on this stage 46 girls have been forced to marry, several others have died of pregnancy complications because they have failed to receive the healthcare they need."
She believes that the Nairobi meeting serves to remind the international community that "a promise made must be a promise made to girls and women, boys and men, to everyone".
Kanem's quoted Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai who said: "Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven't done a thing. You are just talking."
"We have to do! Years from now, when we speak about Nairobi, let them say we did the work. We planted the trees about rights for all."
Bacary Dabo and Juanita Williams are in Nairobi via sponsorship from UNFPA