DECISION-MAKERS in Jamaica and other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are being called on to accelerate efforts to advance gender equality and women's empowerment, the rights and empowerment of adolescents and youth, and sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.
The call was made Wednesday by the High-Level Task Force for the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) during the Regional Conference on Population and Development currently on in Montevideo, Uruguay.
The three areas have been deemed by the Task Force as fundamental human rights issues and are seen as critical to sustainable development.
The Task Force calls on governments to heed the following four key recommendations, urging their incorporation as specific objectives and targets in both the regional agenda for Cairo beyond 2014 and the new post-2015 global development agenda:
* Respect, protect and fulfil sexual and reproductive rights for all through legal and policy reforms and public education campaigns and community mobilisation on human rights;
* Accelerate universal access to quality, comprehensive and integrated sexual and reproductive health information, education and services;
* Guarantee universal access to comprehensive sexuality education for all young people, in and out of school; and,
* Eliminate violence against women and girls and secure universal access to critical services for all victims and survivors of gender-based violence.
These priority recommendations for the way forward on the ICPD in Latin America and Caribbean were outlined by two members of the Task Force: Mariela Castro, director of the Cuban National Centre for Sex Education, and Alessandra Nilo, co-founder and executive director of the Brazilian NGO Gestos, and regional secretary of the Latin American and Caribbean Council of AIDS Service Associations.
The two reflected on the havoc wreaked on women's lives by the region's strict abortion laws, which include, in some countries, putting women in jail for seeking life-saving treatment for complications from unsafe abortion and for undergoing illegal abortions.
"Critical, in this region and worldwide, is ensuring universal comprehensive sexuality education for all young people, in and out of school," Castro said, highlighting the consequences of ignoring the sexual and reproductive rights of young people, including the fact that 20 per cent of babies born in the region are to adolescent mothers; 250,000 young people are living with HIV; and up to 40 per cent of young women report that their first sexual experience was forced.
She also condemned discrimination and the lack of respect and tolerance for diversity, emphasising that "as human beings we all have equal rights and deserve the same respect and ethical treatment, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity."
Nilo, for her part, observed that "Failure to fulfil sexual and reproductive health and rights in our region has resulted in some stark realities".
The Regional Conference on Population and Development, which opened on Monday and ended yesterday, was organised by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the Government of Uruguay, and the United Nations Population Fund.
It brings together government officials from the region to review the progress made in implementing the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development held in 1994 in Cairo, and to chart the way forward for the ICPD Beyond 2014.