Last week’s 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York included an address by President Obama, a celebrity-studded “People’s Climate March,” and a much-discussed speech by actress Emma Watson on gender equality. A less-heralded special session commemorated the 20th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) that produced a Program of Action document that has been the bedrock of U.N. development policy.
The ICPD Program of Action is credited with institutionalizing the idea that “protecting human rights, investing in health and education, advancing gender equality and empowering women are central to expanding opportunities for all.” While inarguably far-reaching in its impact, the ICPD document and legacy has been fraught with controversy. The same thorny issues concerning “reproductive rights,” abortion, and population control that dominated the heated negotiations leading up to the adoption of the 1994 document still overshadow present-day battles over what to include in a new development framework.
Advocates of so-called sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) have ramped up their efforts to further advance abortion access and contraceptive use in the name of sustainable development. They have seized upon the “ICPD Beyond 2014” campaign as a promising forum for including a development goal that specifically mentions SRHR, something the 1994 ICPD document notably excluded.
These SRHR advocates are not alone in their efforts to shape the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are slated to build upon the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that expire in 2015. Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs, a primary architect of the MDGs, is now spearheading the U.N. initiative to create “a framework for sustainable development that addresses the challenges of ending poverty, increasing social inclusion and sustaining the planet.”
Defining the post-2015 development agenda as such is surely good news to population control proponents, environmentalists, abortion advocates, and LGBT supporters, whose priorities were not included in the stand-alone goals of the MDGs. From the other side, pro-family groups have been working to get language affirming the natural family included in the post-2015 development goals.
Against the backdrop of planning and negotiations for the future goals, however, a year still remains to achieve the targets set out in the Millennium Development Goals. A recent report confirms that several of the MDG targets have already been met, including a reduction in the number of people living in poverty and increased access to drinking water.
Speaking last week to a group of global leaders, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon noted: “Fewer people are in poverty. More children are in school. We are making inroads in the fight against malaria and tuberculosis,” but more work remains. “We must do more to finish our targets on hunger and chronic child malnutrition. Faster progress is needed to meet the goals of reducing child and maternal mortality and to improve access to sanitation,” he said.
As these negotiations continue, conservatives should work to ensure that U.N. development goals reflect the real needs of the developing world—such as fighting hunger and disease, improving education, and strengthening economic freedoms and the rule of law—and move away from the myriad political agendas of various nongovernmental organizations and U.N. member states.