The 49th session of the Commission on Population and Development: Why it matters

CPD40

Each year in April, UN Member States gather in New York for the annual session of the UN Commission on Population and Development. The Commission’s role is to monitor the implementation of the Programme of Action adopted at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994.

Each year it does so by discussing a different theme linked to the conference. This year’s theme is “Strengthening the demographic evidence base for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development".

Why does this matter? The ICPD Programme of Action was a landmark consensus document, agreed by 179 governments, which placed human rights and individual well-being at the centre of sustainable development. It emphasised gender equality, the elimination of violence against women, as well as women’s empowerment and the ability to control their own fertility as cornerstones of population and development-related programmes, and was significant also in its recognition of reproductive rights.

When governments come together in New York for the Commission on Population and Development, they are reviewing their progress in making this agenda a reality. Each year, they also negotiate a set of agreed conclusions linked to the annual theme. This presents an opportunity for governments to set out further actions required for its implementation and further develop the agenda by agreeing new commitments building upon its objectives.

This process is not without its hurdles. More than twenty years after its adoption, several areas of the ICPD Programme of Action still prove divisive among governments. This is particularly true for elements of sexual and reproductive health and rights, where proposals for new, more progressive language are often met with fierce resistance from conservative groups of governments. Difficult negotiations among governments led to last year’s session of the Commission on Population and Development ending without agreed conclusions.

As a result, the stakes for this year’s session, taking place this week, are high. This year’s topic, “Strengthening the demographic evidence base for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, may sound rather dry and technical, but is truly critical to the success of the ICPD Programme of Action and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted last September. Without commitment to expanding data collection and disaggregation, it will be difficult to know if implementation efforts work or if people are being left behind.

Data is necessary to understand the impact of laws, policies and programmes on people’s lives, identify and address patterns of discrimination and inequality, and develop policies and programmes responsive to the needs of marginalised groups. An ambitious outcome to this year’s session of the Commission on Population and Development can give important impetus to further data collection and analysis, including in relation to sexual and reproductive health and rights, and can have a positive impact also on ongoing discussions on the development of indicators for the 2030 Agenda.

With three days down and two more to go at this year’s session of the Commission on Population and Development, it is important to remember that discussions taking place are not just about data and evidence collection. They are about people’s lives.

By Raffaela Dattler, Advocacy Project Advisor at IPPF European Network