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Regional (The Pacific).

To mark the ICPD PoA's 15th anniversary, UNFPA and the University of the South Pacific co-organised a three-day Pacific Regional Symposium on Population and Development in Suva, Fiji on November 2009. Attended by government representatives, NGOs, regional organisations, international agencies, academics and a few women's rights organisations, the Symposium aimed to assess progress in the Pacific towards achieving the ICPD PoA, consolidate lessons learned, identify the remaining challenges and formulate policy recommendations for accelerating progress.

Although the Symposium had a variety of plenary thematic areas, it failed to focus on the gendered and multiple forms of discrimination that women, especially young women and girls, face in the Pacific. For feminists, the ICPD PoA was monumental because it legitimised the notion of sexual and reproductive rights (SRR), shifting the frame from population control to SRHR, while taking women's realities into account. It also made commitments for meeting those needs and acknowledged the central role of women and young people in the development process.

This can prove difficult in the Pacific region because of the geographical isolation of small island states and associated issues, such as lack of poor infrastructure and poor delivery of services. Additionally, the Pacific has a vast linguistic and cultural diversity. Traditional culture is centered on the extended family and, in many cases, the Christian church. In the Pacific societies, status is attained "with age. As a young woman, growing up in the Pacific can be both a beautiful and a challenging experience. Culture places value on women--as child bearers and care givers--but this also restricts women because it defines women only by these roles. This is particularly so for young women, who are expected to be seen but not heard. Being young and a female is synonymous with having little power and no voice.

As such, a review of the ICPD PoA need to reflect women's multiple identities and reality in order for women to fully realise their sexual reproductive and health rights. This includes dealing with issues such as abortion and sexuality that are "widely considered taboo and immoral in the Pacific, and providing services that are safe and affordable, while creating awareness and demystifying issues around these issues.

A Pacific Sub-Regional Review of the ICPD PoA implementation visibly indicates challenges, (1) such as universal access to RH remaining a long way from being achieved in the predominantly rural, village-based societies. Unmet need for FP and contraception for young people remain significant where contraceptive prevalence remains below 50% in most countries. Approximately 650,000 women have unmet need for FP in the Pacific. Adolescent SRR and sexuality remain culturally contested concepts in the Pacific, and adolescents and young people in rural areas have limited access to SRH information, counseling and services. Gender-based violence is persistent and pervasive in the Pacific. Sexual minorities remain marginalised and stigmatised without widespread support or access to SRH services, including for HIV and sexually transmitted infections.

Pacific feminists and women's rights organisations need to take an active role in pressuring their Governments to comply with the principles of the ICPD. Compliance needs to be focused on the four principles of equality, diversity, personhood and bodily integrity, but placed within a "larger frame that also includes adequate nutrition, housing, a job and social assistance." (2)

Source: Michelle Reddy, Fiji Women's Rights Movement.,


(1) Hayes, George. 2009. UNFPA Pacific Sub-Regional Office, Suva.

(2) Correa, Sonia. Sexual and Reproductive Rights--Historical Trends.
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Author:Reddy, Michelle
Publication:Arrows For Change
Date:Sep 1, 2009
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