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MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay— The First session of the Regional Conference on Population and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean opened here on Monday, with representatives from more than 30 Latin American and Caribbean countries, who will discuss a regional population and development agenda beyond 2014.
The opening ceremony of the four-day conference was presided over by Uruguay’s President José Mujica; the nation’s Foreign Minister, Luis Almagro; Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena; Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin; and Ibero-American Secretary-General, Enrique V. Iglesias.
In his address, Dr. Osotimehin said the conference was being held in the context of two major United Nations undertakings: the ICPD Beyond 2014 Review and discussions on the post-2015 development agenda. He considered the gathering an opportunity to link the ICPD review with post-MDG discussions to “ensure that we are truly able to put people and rights at the centre of the development agenda beyond 2015.”
“Today, people in Latin America and the Caribbean are more empowered than they were 20 years ago,” continued the UNFPA Executive Director. “The region has seen considerable economic growth over the past decade, and social protection programmes in many countries are ensuring that more people, including the poor and disenfranchised, are benefiting from this growth.”
Similarly, he went on, “we have seen important progress in gender equality and in women’s participation in the social, economic and political spheres. But much work remains in order to achieve full gender equality, increase the capacity of women to exercise their sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, reduce gender-based violence, improve the balance between women’s productive and reproductive lives, and in so doing, increase their ability to participate much more fully in the economy, in political processes and in public life.”
However, Dr. Osotimehin emphasized, “Promoting gender equality in a post-2015 world includes finishing the work of the Millennium Declaration. Unfortunately, the MDGs that are most off-track are those directly linked to achieving gender equality, such as reducing maternal death and ensuring universal reproductive health and rights. This is despite overwhelming evidence that gender inequality significantly slows economic growth in both rich and poor countries.”
Focusing on the critical question of growth and speaking on the occasion of International Youth Day, Dr Osotimehin underscored the essential role of young people. “Several countries are poised to reap the ‘demographic dividend’,” he said. “But this requires that decision-makers and planners invest now in programmes to improve young people’s access to decent work, education, social participation and health services, particularly sexual and reproductive health services.”
“Fully engaged, educated, healthy and productive adolescents and youth can help break the cycle of poverty and strengthen their families, communities and nations,” said Dr. Osotimehin. For this to happen, he added, “young people must be able to exercise their right to education, including age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education; their right to sexual and reproductive health, through youth-friendly health services that include access to contraception; their right to decent jobs and to participate in decision-making.”
“The outcome of this conference should send a clear message to the 140 million young people living in the region that we are listening to them and that we want to join forces to provide opportunities for those among their ranks who do not have access to school or work,” he urged.
“Working together, we can mount an integrated response for the up to 32 per cent of young people in the region suffering the consequences of school dropout, adolescent pregnancy, unemployment, drug addiction, or conflict with the law,” the Executive Director added, declaring: “This is a moral obligation and a social, economic and political necessity.”
The conference, one of the largest intergovernmental meetings in recent years, is attended by more than 800 people, including authorities, population experts and representatives from non-governmental organizations. It is organized by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the Uruguayan Government, with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.
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