By Ranjani K.Murthy*
Independent Researcher, Gender, poverty and health
Between 1994 and 2009 several changes have taken place in the health/SRH and global NGO scenario, within which the NGO Forum needs to be located. There has been a trend towards privatization of health and SRH services, including rise in public-private partnerships. The funds available for sexual and reproductive rights based groups in general (and in developing countries in particular) and their networks has shrunk in several countries while that for private foundations and international NGOs working through their national offices on SRH (with branches in developing countries) have increased. Global warming has led to a rise in the number of NGOs working on this issue, and some with strong believes that increase in population is the primary cause of global warming. It is the sexual and reproductive rights based groups that in 1994 pushed the agenda from population control to reducing in-equalities across and within countries (including on gender), empowering women, promoting their reproductive rights and health and promoting their sexual health. In the NGO Forum for SRH and Development, national and locally based sexual and reproductive rights groups (advocating SRR of women, youth, sex workers, and people of diverse sexual and gender identities) had to compete for space with INGOs and private foundations engaged in SRH and the population control section of the global warming lobby.
In this context, a major achievement of the Steering and Drafting committee** of the NGO Forum is that the Call to Action which was framed during the forum pushed the Cairo agenda further by calling upon governments and donors to promote, respect and fulfill ‘sexual rights’ and not just ‘reproductive rights’. Another achievement was that the emphasis on SRH education and services for all youth (meaning irrespective of marital status and sexuality education). A third achievement is the push for comprehensive and PUBLICLY funded SRH services, including safe and legal abortion, at primary heath care level, and placing rights to abortion and maternal health as a human right issue in a NGO forum. The Drafting Committee of the Call to Action managed to keep out the ‘population control’ language, though there were strong pressures to include the same including the closing plenary, wherein the representative from Packard Foundation spoke of the need to talk about the missing ‘P’ in the ICPD.
A lesson for future conferences is to distinguish between ‘NGO forum on SRH’ and ‘Forum of rights based groups working on SRHR’ which is fully led by sexual and reproductive rights based organizations. Forum led by sexual and reproductive rights based groups can only happen if there is continued funding for such organizations. Last bust not the least, given the climate of privatization, global economic recession, increase in private foundations/public private partnerships in SRH and rise in NGOs with a ‘population control as the answer to global warming agenda’ whether the ICPD Cairo consensus should be reopened is another moot question.
* The views expressed here are that of the author alone and not of any individual or organization she is associated with.
** The Steering committee consisted of representatives from around 20 organizations, including UNFPA, GTZ, INGOs working on SRH and regional/global sexual and reproductive rights groups. GTZ and UNFPA acted as Secretariat of the forum, and IPPF, ARROW, DSW and Youth Coalition acted as Chairs/Co-Chairs.