Editor's Comment

Biggest controversial meeting in Africa


THE governments of Denmark and Kenya, together with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), have organised one of the biggest conferences to be held in Africa that will take place in Nairobi, Kenya, from today (November 12) to Thursday, November 14, 2019.
The organisers intend to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the historical International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which took place in Cairo, Egypt, in 1994.
But the United States government, The Vatican and the African Union (AU), and the Kenyan Church have expressed strong concern and reservations about the meeting.
The concerns relate to the draft texts ( Nairobi Statement) and the strategic focus of the meeting that has shifted from population and development issues, to matters related to access and rights to abortion and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQ) rights.
Another critical issue is that no substantive, inclusive and substantial consultations on the texts were carried out with policy organs of the United Nations and the African Union.
The Holy See has since pulled out of the meeting stating that:
“The Holy See notes that if more time and a truly inclusive approach had been chosen, broader support could have been ensured for the text and for the conference.”
But the deeper concern is the realisation that the meeting appears to misrepresent the legitimate authority of the United Nations.
The meeting is being held outside of the United Nations framework, thus precluding transparent inter-governmental negotiations while conveying the misleading impression of UN member states on “consensus” on the “Nairobi Statement”.
So the Nairobi Summit cannot be deemed to be a meeting requested by the United Nations or held under its auspices as was the original ICPD, which it is seeks to commemorate.
The ICPD was convened under the auspices of the United Nations and was organised by a secretariat composed of the Population Division of the then UN Department for Economic and Social Information and Policy Analysis (now the Department of Economic and Social Affairs) and UNFPA.
So what is the controversy?
In the original ICPD of 1994 and the subsequent Program of Action, the primary call was for member states to implement programmes for universal access to health, and to institute family planning programmes.
Over time, UNFPA has expanded the goal to include sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and now rights (SRHR); the right to access education regarding sexual and reproductive health, an end to female genital mutilation, and increased women’s empowerment in social, political, and cultural spheres.
But it is their special goals and targets created to address adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights, including access by adolescents to abortions, and in many cases without parental consent; and the aggressive introduction of LGBTQ matters that has raised stakeholders’ concerns.
These programmes are being implemented without due regard to national, religious, cultural and traditional values and interests of Africa and other UN member states that remain conservative on such matters.
So what are sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), and why have they caused so much controversy and indignation?
1. Sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) – Sexual reproductive health and rights or SRHR is the concept of human rights applied to sexuality and reproduction.
UNFPA is driving an agenda to ensure that SRH&R should be part of public health and development strategies.
SRHR is described as good sexual and reproductive health, a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being in all matters relating to the sex and the reproductive system.
It implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life, the capability to reproduce, and the freedom to decide if, when, and how often to do so.
The description might appear innocent and noble but it attracts embedded controversial guaranteed rights such as free access sex (all types of sex), free access to abortions, and redefine gender identity as a matter of right beyond male and female identities as we know it.
These are matters that Africa has not established consensus on.
This also raises concern when such rights are extended to adolescents who in religious, traditional, community and cultural settings may not be permitted to have free sex as they deem (as sex is reserved for marriage), experiment with their sexual orientation ( gay sex and couples are alien and offend known social norms, and in many jurisdictions outlawed) and are allowed to change genders as they wish(a big matter pending determination in legal, scientific, religious and cultural terms in Africa).
This violates and offends social and national values in those communities.
2. Comprehensive sexuality education(CSE)
CSE curriculum is controversial as it has many extreme aspects such as introducing children as young as seven to learn about same-sex families, and to the controversial concept of numerous gender identities.
Children are also taught about masturbation, oral and anal sex, and other types of sex.
Many religious groupings have called the CSE curriculum “satanic and evil”.
CSE is also deemed as a tool targeting Africa’s children and young people as a quick way to change Africa’s highly conservative positions on LGBTQ and gender identity issues.
CSE is a highly controversial matter as it is driven as a “rights-based” approach to sex education that encompasses more than just teaching children and youth about sexual intercourse and human reproduction.
On the other hand, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the specialised agency of the United Nations based in Paris, France, which has been driving the agenda, states that CSE is a curriculum-based process of teaching children and young people to learn about the cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality.
UNESCO states that CSE aims to equip children and young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will empower them to realise their sexual health, well-being and dignity.
It says CSE encompasses children and young people to understand issues about relationships, gender, puberty, consent, and sexual and reproductive health.
But critics state that CSE programmes have been hijacked by pro-abortion and pro-LGBTQ organisations that have introduced in the children’s sex education curriculum issues promoting same-sex marriage, controversial gender identities, and LGBTQ issues.
The ICPD25 being held in Nairobi may miss a great opportunity to address and promote the broader goals of the world aiming to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, and the goals to end poverty, secure good health and well-being of all, and realising gender equality and achieving sustainable communities, among many other SDG goals.
The narrow focus and attention to sexual health and reproductive rights and the attendant comprehensive sexuality education becomes the poisoned chalice spoiling the noble goal of the original ICPD and its developmental agenda on healthy population growth and development.
The author is Zambia’s Ambassador to Ethiopia and Permanent Representative to the African Union.

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