Shaping Asia-Pacific's Voice on Population for the Next Phase of Global Development

Sixth Asian and Pacific Population Conference

Closing Statement as Delivered by Dr. Noeleen Heyzer,
Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Executive Secretary of
the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and Special Advisor of the United Nations Secretary-General for Timor-Leste

Closing Session of the
Sixth Asian and Pacific Population Conference
Bangkok, 20 September 2013

Your Excellency, Mr. Anote Tong,
President of Kiribati and Chairperson of the Conference,

Mr. Rapporteur,

Ms. Kate Gilmore, Deputy Executive Director of UNFPA,

Dr. Nafis Sadik, Secretary-General of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development,

Distinguished Ministers,
Excellencies,
Delegates,
Representatives of civil society,
Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introduction

The power of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, was the recognition, by its 179 participating governments, that efforts to control population had to give way to real development, with people at the centre.

This fundamental shift in mind-set was driven by a key insight – that population numbers matter, but less than the interactions between population, which is people, and development.

No region has better proven the wisdom of this shift, than Asia and Pacific. In the almost twenty years since the Cairo Conference, it has been our people who have led the world in terms of economic growth, technological innovation, and industrial progress.

Throughout this week we have also heard the evidence of Asia-Pacific’s human successes: the average woman in our region today has around two children instead of five; where five decades ago the average person could expect to live until the age of 45, women can now expect to live to the age of 72 and men to 68; and almost as many girls as boys now enter primary school.

We have been less successful, however, in translating this progress into a guarantee of individual health, wellbeing, security, and human dignity for all. It would, in fact, be fair to say that despite all our progress, we are only halfway there.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

A New Milestone: The Asian and Pacific Declaration

Our deliberations this week, in the Sixth Asian and Pacific Population Conference, represent another fundamental shift – towards a more inclusive and rights-based approach to addressing population dynamics, in the context of ever-more pressing environmental and planetary boundaries.

Our new milestone: the Asian and Pacific Declaration on Population and Development, is a blueprint for continued Asia-Pacific leadership, on issues of population in the next phase of development, with sustainability at its core, to benefit both our people and our planet.

Addressing one of the most important parts of our unfinished business, it affirms the importance of non-discrimination, of ending violence against women and girls, and of universal sexual and reproductive health, services, and rights. It affirms the importance of national laws and policies which respect and protect the reproductive rights of every person, and enable all people to exercise them without discrimination on any grounds.

I would like to echo the words of my very dear friend, the architect of the ICPD and former Executive Director of UNFPA, Dr. Nafis Sadik, who yesterday said “Protecting women and girls, and promoting gender equity and equality, will enable sustained and equitable development”. She reminded us that gender discrimination, oppression and violence are not Asian values, nor are they human values, and that we must never allow them be hidden behind a façade of culture or tradition.

The Declaration also addresses the demographic challenges of our region – providing guidance for improving access to the labour market for young people, and supporting countries in preparing for ageing societies.

It will be our regional input for the special session of the General Assembly on ICPD Beyond 2014, which will take place in September next year, and is a powerful expression of our Asia-Pacific voice in shaping the post-2015 development agenda.

This Asia-Pacific Declaration is well-aligned with the global discussions to define that agenda. The very first of the five transformative shifts identified as necessary to shape the future we want, in the recent Report of the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, was “Leave No One Behind”. I quote from the Report: “The next development agenda must ensure that in the future, neither income nor gender, nor ethnicity, nor disability, nor geography, will determine whether people live or die, whether a mother can give birth safely, or whether her child has a fair chance in life. […] It must end discrimination and promote equality between men and women, girls and boys.” The Asian and Pacific Declaration on Population and Development embodies this vision.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my deep gratitude to every delegate whose contributions have achieved this important and historic outcome, which I know was the result of often-intensive discussions and negotiations. I would especially like to thank the Chairperson of the Conference, His Excellency President Tong of Kiribati, as well as the Vice-Chairperson, and the Rapporteur for their valuable efforts. Let me also acknowledge the immense contribution of the Chairperson of the Senior Officials’ Segment, Mr. Keshav Desiraju. My thanks also go to our long-standing partners and friends – the United Nations Population Fund, and especially to its Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, and to you personally, Kate Gilmore. I would also like to recognise and thank all of the delegates from civil society organizations – especially from the women’s movement – without your contributions to the success of the Conference, I am sure it would have achieved a much lesser outcome. In your presence, allow me to also thank all my staff, who have worked so hard to support this success.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Next Steps: From Commitments to Implementation

The challenge now will be for all of us to fulfill the commitments we have just made, and to build better lives for all our people.

The Asia-Pacific Population Conference will be convened again in its Seventh session, ten years from now. What kind of region will we hope to have achieved by 2023? What will Asia-Pacific population success in the period of the post-2015 development agenda entail?

First, it must be a region in which every person is offered the opportunity to realize their full potential. A region with empowered women and girls, where all women have access to sexual and reproductive health services, and can freely decide the number and spacing of their children. A region where every birth is attended by skilled personnel, and in which no mother dies unnecessarily while giving birth to new life. A region where girls attend school, and are not forced to become brides and mothers. A region free of discriminatory laws and stigma, with equal rights and protections for all, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, caste, belief, or background. With all people covered by basic social protection, especially the most vulnerable. A region of zero new HIV infections, and without gender-based violence.

Second, it must be a region in which every country turns demographic challenges into demographic opportunities. Where countries have accurate and complete population data, especially on civil registration and vital statistics, which enable informed policy-making and decisions. Where countries with large youth populations harness these energies as precious national resources, creating more and better job opportunities for young people. A region in which all countries are prepared for ageing societies, and where more people will be healthy in their old age, through strengthened health systems and more preventive care. A region where older people can age in dignity, free from poverty and pain.

Third, it must be a region on a more sustainable development path, with countries pursuing less carbon- and energy-intensive growth, with greener & cleaner, more renewable energy sources, and in which the threat of climate change has been averted – saving the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in disaster-prone areas.

We will only achieve these aims through the implementation of better population dynamics and policies, especially for those who are currently amongst our most marginalized - those in remote and rural areas, those who do not have access to social protection, older persons, migrants, persons with disabilities, and persons living with HIV and AIDS.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Conclusion

In conclusion, and in the words of the Conference theme, we have to continue building better lives, if we are to fulfill the promises made this week to every person in Asia and the Pacific.

The Declaration you have just adopted calls for a concerted approach of the UN system to support member States in this next great transformation. ESCAP will continue its partnership with UNFPA, and through the Regional Coordination Mechanism, to focus the support of all parts of the UN system towards these ends.

Let us together affirm that the world and the region we want is one of equality in every country and every home. A world and a region free from poverty, and from all forms of violence and discrimination. A world where basic needs become basic rights, where all people develop their full potential, and where progress for one is progress for all.

I thank you.