Rep. Maloney remarks before the 2012 International Parliamentarians Conference on the ICPD Programme of Action

May 24, 2012 Issues: Women's Issues
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Rep. Maloney speaking before the 2012 International Parliamentarians Conference in Istanbul, Turkey
Rep. Maloney speaking before the 2012 International Parliamentarians Conference

WASHINGTON, DC – Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) delivered remarks at the opening session of the "2012 International Parliamentarians Conference on the Implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action" in Istanbul, Turkey, on May 24, 2012.

The ICPD, the International Conference on Population and Development, was held in Cairo, Egypt, in 1994, included delegations from 179 States resulted in a "Programme of Action" setting goals for worldwide population and development for the next 20 years.The Programme endorsed a new strategy emphasizing linkages between population and development and focuses on meeting the needs of individual women by expanded access to education and health services, and promoting skill development and employment,  improving education-- especially for girls-- and for the further reduction of infant, child and maternal mortality levels.

The following are Rep. Maloney's prepared remarks.

Thank you for the opportunity to be here and to address you today.  

Greetings from the United State House of Representatives.  I extend warm regards to those here including Prime Minister Erdogan, First Lady Roelofs, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Ministers, fellow parliamentarians, civil society, young people, friends.  

Thank you to the UN Population Fund, the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development, and the Grand National Assembly of Turkey for organizing and hosting this important conference.  

Thank you all for your commitment to the ICPD Programme of Action – a truly historic document, in part, because it was a true consensus on a set of interrelated issues that indeed has created positive change and advancements for women over the past two decades.  

Personally, I think we should be calling the ICPD – the International CONSENSUS on Population and Development…to highlight the strong support for our agenda and our collective vision.

It is a vision based on a set of values that we all share:  A vision of equality and human rights for the world’s women and girls that is healthier, safer, economically secure and full of opportunities for our daughters and granddaughters than the world we have known.  

We all have many demands on our time and energy.  Your participation here, your commitment to the ideals of ICPD over the past eighteen years, and your efforts to make the Programme of Action a reality is making a difference and is changing the world for millions of women, their families and communities.

The world assembled in Cairo eighteen years ago with a sense of hope and determination to set our planet on a course that would ensure that equality and the empowerment of women is a global priority.  

The major accomplishment of Cairo was the explicit, universal recognition that not only are women’s rights human rights, but that access to reproductive rights for all women is clearly and directly linked to two of the greatest challenges of our time -- eradicating poverty and stabilizing population growth.  

We assemble here today with that same sense of hope and determination as in Cairo all those years ago, but perhaps a bit wiser and perhaps a bit more aware of the complexity of the challenges that we face.  

I hope that we can depart from this place tomorrow a bit clearer on what we need to do in the coming years to further the promise of Cairo and perhaps to understand the social, programmatic, logistical, cultural, financial, and political headwinds our efforts have faced over the last eighteen years so that we can better tack into those winds to move closer to our final destination.  

We have made progress, but we are not where we need to be with deadlines near.

A recent UNFPA report finds that maternal mortality has been cut  by 50% over the past 20 years.  Clearly, global attention to this issue has had an impact, but 287,000 women are still dying annually and the MDG target is for a 75% reduction.

The burning question -- the reason we have all traveled so far to be here -- is, “what can we do individually and what can we do collectively to speed up achievement of the Programme of Action and meet the promise of the ICPD for women?”   

I will try to address this question from a US perspective.  

I have the very good fortune to represent the congressional district in New York City that includes the United National headquarters.  My constituents are very outward looking, compassionate, and progressive.  

By coincidence, my district also was home to the first fistula hospital in the United States. As maternal health improved in the US and such hospitals were no longer needed the facility was torn down and replaced by the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.  When the need for fistula hospitals and fistula repair has ended in sub-Saharan Africa, we will be well in our way to achieving the promise of the ICPD.  

The majority of my constituents understand the linkages between family planning, women’s health, poverty, and development making it relatively easy for me to pursue my personal commitment to bettering life for women globally.  

Over the years, I and a very strong core of both female and male legislators in both the House and Senate -- and including a small number of Republicans -- have worked to help advance the goals of the ICPD, and to make the Cairo Consensus a reality.  

Our commitment to Cairo has not waivered and we stand ready to continue the fight for women everywhere.   My colleague Jan Schakowsky, who is also here, and I work each day to preserve the hard fought gains won by those who came before us in Congress and hopefully continue to build a strong foundation that moves us forward.

I am also pleased to report that the Obama Administration fully understands and seeks to advance the place of women globally. We have a very strong supporter,  a dedicated and proactive leader, in the current Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.  During her first months as Secretary of State, she made very clear that the U.S. remains deeply committed to the ICPD.  

She said of the ICPD, “reproductive healthcare is critical to the health of women, and that women’s health is essential to the prosperity and opportunity of all, to the stability of families and communities, and the sustainability and development of nations, it makes me nostalgic for conferences that are held that actually produce results and give us a framework for moving forward.   

However, US Commitments to the Programme of Action and the spirit of Cairo have been uneven and unfortunately depends on who wins the Presidency and who gets elected to Congress.  The eight years prior to President Obama’s election our challenge came from both Congress and the President.  

Today, these challenges are being mounted primarily by the Republican-led House, which seeks to impede progress on myriad issues for a combination of political, ideological, and fiscal reasons.  Politics in the United States are at a very bitter point right now and the divisions are impacting US capacity to respond effectively and even logically to domestic and international challenges we face and commitments we have made, like the ICPD.  

There have always been opponents to women’s rights and even contraception in the ranks of America’s elected leaders, but in the last two years these opponents have proliferated and seem to be competing with each other to propose and enact even more harmful legislation and rules against women both in the US and overseas.  

If there is one bright spot in this scenario it is that the truth about our opponent’s agenda is now crystal clear.  In the past, opponents of reproductive health and family planning for women claimed that their goal was to end access to abortion.  Today it is clear that a primary goal of these individuals now and in the past is actually to end access to contraception for women.  

It is staggering to think that the issue of women’s access to contraception is still even remotely in the forum of public debate in the year 2012.

You may have heard about the Birth Control Battles in the United States. Contraceptives were made legal across the United States for MARRIED women by our Supreme Court in 1965 and later for all women in the early 70’s.  

Since then our government has slowly been building family planning programs leading toward universal access by providing services for women with low-income and on public assistance.  In a historic move, our new health care law included access to contraceptives for no cost for those covered by private insurance plans.  

But with our new, right-wing extremist House of Representatives– many elected by people who call themselves the Tea Party – there has been a War on Women starting with attacks on reproductive health and rights.

In the past 18 months, the US House of Representatives has voted to eliminate all funding to the reproductive health programs – a majority of these are run by the Planned Parenthood Federation. These health centers are the primary source of reproductive health and family planning for millions of poor women and young women in the United States.

When President Obama stood firm on the attacks against contraceptives and Planned Parenthood, a House Committee had the nerve to hold hearings on women’s health with a panel of experts – all men.  A group of us on the Committee left the hearing that started massive media coverage outing our opposition as the extremists they really are and shifted the debate from the controversies of abortion to the consensus issue of contraceptives.  And we all better understand, that if women are not at the table, they risk being on the menu.

Women and men across the United States finally understand that indeed birth control and women’s health are at risk. A gender gap in voting has emerged in favor of those supporting women’s health and these are likely to become important issues in our upcoming elections because of many women, reproductive rights are both a health and economic issue.

Fortunately, there are still enough sane parliamentarians in the US Senate that they recently narrowly defeated an amendment that would have permitted any employer in the US to unilaterally remove contraceptive coverage from their employee health plan by simply stating that they have a “moral objection” to providing it.  

Unfortunately, it is likely we can expect more of these types of attacks on women in the War on Women that is being led by Republicans in Congress.  It appears that at least some of these attacks will be deflated by our courts, but others are likely to be upheld and implemented.  

While these domestic attacks on women they do not directly impact the US commitment to the ICPD Programme of Action.  

I mention them simply to explain the environment facing the ICPD in US policymaking circles.  

Unfortunately, it does not stop there. Additional actions at the federal level in the US have the potential to make it more difficult for the US Government to assist in helping developing countries to achieve Cairo Consensus goals.

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee reported a bill that would eliminate US funding for the UN Population Fund, re-impose the Global Gag Rule that prohibits US funds going to the International Planned Parenthood Federation and other very effective providers, and slash US bilateral family planning and reproductive health assistance by almost 25%.   

These provisions are expected to pass the House, but will almost certainly be softened or even reversed by the Senate.  In addition, the House Republican leadership is seeking to enact deep cuts to international programs overall in the coming years which could put ongoing downward pressure on development assistance, including family planning.  

While much of what I have said so far has emphasized the challenges we face, there are many bright spots, opportunities, and reasons for optimism.  I am optimistic because I know that those who stand with women and work to promote their health and rights are on the right side of history.

The recent attacks on women’s rights have galvanized and re-energized our feminist movement who now understand we must be vigilant both to fight to maintain on hard-fought rights, but vigilant as we move forward on our vision and agenda for the future.

The Obama Administration and many Members of Congress remain strongly committed to the goals embodied in the ICPD Programme of Action.  Perhaps more importantly, polls have consistently shown that 75 to 90 percent of Americans support international family planning programs, including 69 percent of Independents and Republicans.  

It is also important to remember that while financial pressures are a reality in all of our countries, the US has managed to prioritize international family planning.  US funding for international family planning programs hit an all time high in 2009, the first year President Obama was in office, and remains at historically high levels.

In 2012, the US will provide $610 million for international family planning including $35 million for UNFPA.  In 2013, the President has requested more than $642 million.  By contrast, in 2007 the US was providing only $458 million, had eliminated all funding for UNFPA, and prohibited funds from being provided to IPPF and other very effective providers.  

While we are far from achieving it, advocates and supporters in Congress like myself are working hard to increase US funding for international family planning to $1 billion, which is the level I consider the US’ fair share of the approximately $6.7 billion needed to meet international family planning goals, and accelerate progress on the Programme of Acton and the U.N. Millennium Development Goals.  

This will remain our goal until we achieve it.  

The preamble of the Programme of Action makes clear that the ICPD was not an isolated event and not even a beginning, but an event along a continuum of activities that would, if implemented, result in a world that has a much brighter future for us all.   

Progress has certainly been made, but more needs to be done and we need to be quicker and more nimble.   The path behind us is eighteen years longer, but the path ahead still ends somewhere over the horizon.

My friends, I look forward to working with you all at this conference and in the future to accelerate realization of the Programme of Action and to do my part to continue to spur the US Government to cooperative actions that will help meet its obligations under the Programme.  

Thank you.