KAMPALA, Uganda, 22 June—An international meeting on reproductive health and rights was opened this morning by Sam Kutesa, Uganda’s Minister of State for Finance, Planning and Economic Development; and Dr. Nafis Sadik, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Dr. Sadik later meet with President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, and with the Ugandan Parliamentary Forum on Population and Food Security.
Fifty experts from around the world are attending the Expert Round-table Meeting on Ensuring Reproductive Rights and Implementing Sexual and Reproductive Health Programmes, Including Women’s Empowerment, Male Involvement and Human Rights. The UNFPA-organized meeting at the International Conference Centre here is part of a year-long evaluation of progress made since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo.
The four-day conference will focus on efforts to ensure reproductive rights, especially for women, and to implement sexual and reproductive health programmes. Today’s sessions also included presentations and working group discussions.
Mr. Kutesa spoke on behalf of Dr. Specioza Wandira-Kazibwe, Vice-President of Uganda and Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries. The formal opening session was chaired by Dr. Jotham Musinguzi, Director of the Population Secretariat, Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development. The UNFPA Representative in Uganda, James Kuriah, welcomed all participants, dignitaries and Ugandan lawmakers attending the opening.
Greater involvement by civil society, communities and the private sector has helped developing countries like Uganda shape and implement policies for population and development since the ICPD, Mr. Kutesa said. Uganda will continue to encourage such decentralization so that decisions directly affecting people’s lives can be taken more quickly and with greater effect. He cited recent efforts his country has made to fight acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), in promoting reproductive health and in empowering women.
In her opening address to the round table, Dr. Sadik said the host country has been effective in carrying out family planning and reproductive health programmes. Uganda has addressed the issues of reproductive health openly and with strong commitment from President Yoweri Museveni.
The round-table, she said, should address the empowerment of women and the role of men in that process. Women's empowerment must include education, support and advocacy for the rights of women and girls, and free choice in the numbers and spacing of children. Empowerment requires changes in the attitudes and behaviour of men, she stressed. Programmes must therefore educate them and provide them with access to appropriate reproductive health services and information.
"Men's concerns should be addressed, and they should be seen not only as part of the problem, since many men would like to be seen as part of the solution," Dr. Sadik said.
She praised Uganda for its efforts to eliminate female genital mutilation, and said other countries should follow its lead.
The reproductive health needs of women in emergency situations must be addressed, Dr. Sadik said. These efforts should ensure that abortions are as few as possible among refugees, and sexually transmitted diseases as well as AIDS should be addressed as urgent matters.
In an early morning session on the background to the ICPD review process, the Director of UNFPA's Technical and Policy Division, Mohammed Nizamuddin, spelt out the purpose and the organization of the round table.
Dr. Nicholas Dodd, Chief of the Technical Branch of that division, gave an overview of the road travelled and challenges encountered in working to achieve the goals of the ICPD. He challenged participants to work to ensure that four key questions could be answered in the affirmative:
"Our language has changed, but has our behaviour? Have policy changes been reflected in different operational activities at community level; would a village person know that ICPD ever took place? Are programmes focussing on the effective interventions required to reach ICPD goals? Are adequate resources available to meet the sexual and reproductive health of women, men and adolescents?"
The President of the International Women's Health Coalition, Adrienne Germaine, urged participants to seek ways to create the political will necessary to ensure adequate resources to accomplish ICPD goals, and to overcome political opposition, sensitivities and other constraints. She called for consultations, partnerships and broad alliances to promote ICPD goals, as well as investments to develop advocacy skills and build the strategic capacities of various groups to act and interact.
Dr. Dean Phiri, Director, Reproductive Health Unit, Republic of Zambia, spoke about his country’s efforts to address gender issues, including male involvement, and how resources are allocated to implement population and reproductive health policies.
In the afternoon, the experts went into working groups for detailed discussions on various themes on the round table’s agenda.
Tuesday’s session will focus on the design and quality of sexual and reproductive health services, including an emphasis on the reduction of maternal mortality.