The Netherlands at the Nairobi Summit (ICPD25)

Twenty-five years ago, in 1994, 179 countries adopted a landmark Programme of Action at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, Egypt. Central to the ICPD was the recognition of women’s rights to decide if, when and how many children to have, and of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in general.

The Netherlands has been a staunch supporter of the ICPD from the outset. Following the adoption of the Programme of Action, SRHR – including HIV/AIDS – became a priority of Dutch development cooperation. It continues to be so today. The agreements on women’s rights and SRHR that were made 25 years ago have been reaffirmed on several occasions since then. They remain as valid and important as the day they were made.

Promoting the right of all individuals to make choices about their own bodies, health and lives, without discrimination of any kind, has been central to Dutch policy. Because individuals, especially young people, who can make such decisions have a better and more prosperous future. Dutch SRHR policy is grounded in human rights standards and recognises the strong link between SRHR and HIV/AIDS. It highlights the importance of prevention and the need to reach young people and key populations.

Dutch development policy on SRHR is inspired by successes in this area in the Netherlands itself. These include access to sex education, SRHR services for all, including young people, and access to safe and legal abortion. As a result, the Netherlands has one of the lowest rates of teenage pregnancy and abortion worldwide.

Watch this video to learn more about why the ICPD is so important to the Netherlands, and what the Netherlands will do to continue to invest in this agenda.

25 years of Dutch commitment to ICPD

Justine van de Beek:
These last 25 years, the Netherlands has worked to realize a program of action of the International Conference on Population and Development. At the heart of this agenda are women's rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights. It was adopted in 1994 in Cairo. What has been achieved in these last 25 years? What was the role of the Netherlands in this? And why is it still important to keep investing in the ICPD?

Justine is seen walking

Justine, to Minister Sigrid Kaag:
Why is it important for the Netherlands to invest in women's rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights?

Sigrid Kaag:
Women's rights, gender equality and equity are cornerstones of my foreign trade and development policy. They have always been important to the Netherlands. And more than ever we see a regression on the realization of women's and girls's rights. Particularly in the area of sexual rights and reproductive health. What will be the main message of the Netherlands at the ICPD 25? Well, it is one of the messages investing in women is not only smart economics, it is the right thing to do. It is a must do. We need to do so in education, sexual rights, reproductive health and we need to give voice to women through education. And reinforce their standing. If we fail to do so, we are complicit. Justine: To find out more on how it all began, I have the pleasure to meet former minister for development cooperation, Jan Pronk.

How do you look back upon the ICPD in Cairo?
Jan Pronk:
As a breakthrough. islamic and secular and christian countries came together discussing different views. We were able to find a compromise. And that was for the first time. Secondly, acceptance of reproductive health rights, of in particular women. Which we wanted to get accepted in the west, was accepted finally, after a long negotiation.

Hilde Kroes has been an NGO representative and a diplomat who negotiated on behalf of the Netherlands on the progress in the ICPD implementation. I am wondering how she looks back at what was achieved in this period.

Justine, to Hilde Kroes:
Hilde, how has the Netherlands made a difference during those discussions?

Hilde Kroes:
I believe that the Netherlands has never shied away from the most neglected areas in the ICPD agenda. Like comprehensive sexuality education, safe abortion the rights of marginalized people. And that they have been key in forming alliances with other countries who wanted the same outcomes.
Justine, to Hilde:
And how did you personally experience this process? Hilde: It has not been easy to talk about these issues in the United Nations. But I feel, together with other countries and civil society and young people we were able to move the agenda forward.

Justine, to Naisola Likimani:
Naisola, can you say something about how the Dutch support for the ICPD has impacted Kenya?

Naisola Likimani:
The Dutch have provided incredible support to civil society organisations in Kenya to ensure that young people have accurate and comprehensive information to make decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives. I think that has been so important. The information is integrated. It integrates sexual reproductive health and HIV and it is created with the full participation of young people. Which I think is fantastic. Secondly, the Dutch contribution has really made a difference in an enabling policy environment. So that we can have real sustained impact. So we now have policies on adolescents health in school and outside of school. And now local governments can actually make commitments to resourcing those policies. So that young people, especially women and girls, have right to decide for themselves.

Justine: Without the effort by NGOs, the ICPD may have not existed. Their role is crucial.

I'm on my way to Ton Coenen, executive director of Rutgers, to ask him what we need in order to move forward.

Justine to Ton Coenen:
Ton, what is needed to move the ICPD forward?

Ton Coenen:
The 1.8 billion young people that are living now, they really deserve a future agenda. A future agenda that addresses the challenges. The rights on sexual health, sex education, contraception, abortion. All of them are under pressure now. So they really deserve a strong future agenda. That requires collaboration. Collaboration between governments, NGOs, private sector, citizens. Because that future agenda can only be achieved if we all work together.

It is time to commit. To make sure the promise of Cairo becomes a reality for all. Especially in times of pushback. Because we owe it to women, girls and young people to be able to decide over their own lives, bodies and futures.