Parliamentarians Determined to Reach ICPD 25 Goals

Africa, Asia-Pacific, Conferences, COVID-19, Gender, Gender Violence, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Population, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Economy, Women in Politics

Gender

Delegates from Asia and Africa met during a two-day conference to discuss ICPD25 programme of action. Credit: APDA

Johannesburg, South Africa, Aug 23 2021 (IPS) – Politicians from Asia and Africa shared activism anecdotes demonstrating their determination to meet ICPD 25 commitments. They were speaking at a hybrid conference held simultaneously in Kampala, Uganda, and online.


Ugandan MP Kabahenda Flavia dramatically told the conference that women parliamentarians in her country “stampeded the budget process” to ensure there was potential to recruit midwives and nurses at health centres. Another told of a breastfeeding lawmaker who brought her child to parliament, forcing it to create inclusive facilities for new mothers.

Yet, despite these displays of determination, there was consensus at the meeting, organised by the Asian Population and Development Association and Ugandan Parliamentarians Forum of Food Security, Population and Development, that the COVID-19 pandemic had set the ICPD25 programme of action back, and it needed to be addressed.

In his opening remarks, former Prime Minister of Japan and chair of the APDA, Yasuo Fukuda, commented that the pandemic had “dramatically changed the world. It has exposed enormous challenges faced by African and Asian countries, which lack sufficient infrastructure in health and medical services.”

With only nine years until 2030 to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Fukuda told parliamentarians they needed to respond to the swift pace of global change.

His sentiments were echoed by Ugandan MP Marie Rose Nguini Effa, who said in Africa, the pandemic had “affected the lives of many people, including the aged, youth and women. Many young people lost their jobs while girls’ and young women’s access to integrated sexual and reproductive health information, education and services have plunged.”

Addressing how parliamentarians can make a difference, Pakistani MP Romina Khurshid Alam intimated legislation was not the only route.

Other actions were needed to achieve SDGs, especially those relating to women. For example, the act of paying women the same as their male counterparts would more than compensate for the estimated $264 billion costs over ten years of achieving SDG 5 on gender equality.

Alam, who is also the chair of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians forum, quoted figures from the World Economic Forum, which had looked at the benefits of pay equity. Each year the discrimination “takes $16 trillion off the table”.

“If we just started paying women the same amount of money that we pay men for the same job. Your country will generate that GDP. We will not have to beg anyone for that money,” she said.

The ‘shadow pandemic’ also threatens to destroy any progress made on agenda 2030, Alam said.
People were put into lockdown to prevent the spread of the disease – but not all people live in three-bedroom houses. Overcrowding in poor areas, the stress of lockdowns led to a 300 percent increase in violence.

Flavia said in Uganda, women’s issues were taken extremely seriously – their role, she said, should not be underestimated.

“Women don’t only give birth. They are the backbone of most economies,” she noted, adding that more than 80 percent of the informal sector is made up of women. She listed various laws created to ensure women are accorded full and equal dignity, including article 33 of the Ugandan constitution, which enshrined this.

Women parliamentarians saw their role as custodians of the ICPD 25 programme as action – and were prepared to act if their demands were not taken seriously, including holding up the budgeting process until critical health posts were funded.

Constatino Kanyasu, an MP from Tanzania, called for collective action.

“Developing countries should merge those efforts with other issues, by addressing Covid-19 together with ICPD+25 commitments horizontally,” she said.

In a presentation shared at the conference, Jyoti Tewari, UNFPA for East and South African regions, showed some progress indices since the ICPD conference, including a 49 percent decrease in maternal mortality before the pandemic.

However, he said there was still a long way to go, with 80 000 women dying from preventable deaths during pregnancy. However, the lockdowns during the two waves of the COVID-19 pandemic had prolonged disruptions to SRHR services.

It was necessary to “sustain evidence-based advocacy to promptly
detect changes to service delivery and utilization, and support countries to implement mitigation strategies,” Tewari said.
Ugandan Deputy Speaker Anita Annet Among expressed concern that one in five adolescent girls falls pregnant in Africa – many of whom drop out of school. With schools closed, the situation had worsened.

She called on parliamentarians to be the voice of the voiceless and ensure “you make strong laws that protect the women and youth. Ensure the appropriation of monies that support these marginalized people.”

A declaration following the meeting included advocating for increased budgets to meet the ICPD 25 commitments, including sexual and reproductive health services for all and contributing to the three zeros – preventable maternal deaths, unmet family planning needs, and eliminating gender-based violence.

• The meeting was held under the auspices of the Asian Population and Development Association (APDA) in partnership with The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and hosted by Ugandan Parliamentarians Forum of Food Security, Population and Development (UPFFSP&D).

 

Arab Region’s Largest Youth Gathering Focuses on New Tech

Conferences, Economy & Trade, Featured, Headlines, Middle East & North Africa, Population, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Population

At the Global Youth Forum in Egypt thousands of youth attend a session on Artificial Intelligence and to hear Sophia — a humanoid robot capable of displaying humanlike expressions and interacting with people. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

SHARM-EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, Dec 18 2019 (IPS) – On late Monday morning, a motley group of more than a thousand youth gathered in a hall in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to listen to Sophia — a humanoid robot capable of displaying humanlike expressions and interacting with people. Yahya Elghobashy, a computer science engineering student from Cairo, sat excitedly in the audience. A few meters away from him, also in the audience, was Abdel Fattah el-Sisi — the President of Egypt.


As Sophia and a panel of scientists on the stage spoke about Artificial Intelligence (AI), El-Sisi was seen listening attentively and taking notes while the young crowd around him squealed and took photos.

“It was very exciting that I was going to see and hear the world’s best humanoid robot and that the president himself was there,” Elghobashy revealed, a big smile on his face.

Since 2017, Egyptian president El-Sisi has been seen here at the World Youth Forum each year. The event is now the Arab world’s largest youth gathering, focusing on peace, culture and development.

The 3-day forum, which ended yesterday, Dec.17, drew nearly 8,000 people including 64 speakers and several hundred youth leaders from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. There was also a large contingent of government officials and ministers in attendance, which has been happening under the direct patronage of the president. The core theme of the event is “Egypt: where civilisations meet” – an effort to highlight the cultural diversity of the country to the world.

Technology and innovation in the spotlight

But the dominating subject of discussions at the forum this year was technology and innovation. Of the 20 sessions, half were centred around technology and artificial intelligence (AI), cyber security, industrial innovation and blockchain technologies and applications.

On Monday, Dec. 16, at the session on AI, youths were seen loudly cheering as Sophia the robot spoke. Designed by Hanson Robotics of Hong Kong, Sophia described herself as a robot who is here to assist in the fields of research, education, and entertainment, and help promote public discussion about AI.  At the session, a panel of youth experts also talked passionately about ethics and the future of robotics. “You can build robots that are energy-efficient and also run on renewable energy,” said the humanoid robot to the cheering young crowd.

“This is very progressive that we are discussing advanced technology like AI here. As an engineering student, I think it especially encourages us to talk about what is most relevant to our life, our country and our future,” Elghobashy told IPS.

At a press conference later, El-Sisi assured people that the government was indeed paying attention to the developments at World Youth Forum and planned to bring cutting-edge technologies to the country’s youth for a better future.

“We will be launching a series of new universities teaching all relevant digital age sciences. We will also seek partnerships with international institutions to guarantee a high level of quality education,” El-Sisi said.

New technologies, risks and challenges

Besides the excitement of ground-breaking technologies, the forum also threw light on the risks and challenges of new technologies such as  blockchain – a decentralised, distributed ledger that records the provenance of a digital asset. Cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin, is a perfect example of blockchain technology.

Challenges faced by various countries regarding blockchain due to the lack of national legislation in countries other than China and the United States was also a prominent talking point. This includes possible threats like blockchain being misused by terrorist organisations to sell oil, purchase weapons, and exchange digital currencies.

The missing technologies

Samia Khamis is a student of international relations in Amman, Jordan who traveled to the forum for the first time. “I came via Cairo, which is only an hour away from Jordan, but the moment I stepped out of the airport I could feel that the air pollution level is much higher than my country,” she told IPS.

Cairo is one of the world’s most polluted cities.  According to NUMBEO – an air quality data monitor, residents of Cairo breathe in polluted air, with levels reaching as high as 85 percent.

According to Khamis, Egypt needs to develop technologies that could clear its sky which is “dark” because of pollution. “It is good that we are brining so many technologies on display here, but we need technologies that can make our environment better and our air clearer,” she said.

The forum’s closing ceremony took place on Tuesday night.