Changing the African narrative on population and development

Women exercise how to use contraceptives . Net photo.

Realising Africa’s development aspirations is directly interconnected with its population dynamics.

Yet, according to UN statistics, the continent’s population reached 1.2 billion in 2015 and is projected to further grow rapidly, reaching 1.7 billion in 2030 and more than double by 2050.

The adoption of contraceptive use and stepping up education on sexual and reproductive health are vital in influencing the underlying forces of Africa’s population.

This is why the ability of women and girls to access reproductive rights and a wide range of sexual and reproductive health services play a pivotal role.

Activists, public health specialists and other players have pushed relentlessly to have the result we have today, but much more remains to be done.

And when some of these stakeholders gathered last week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during a media advocacy workshop on 25 years of reporting the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Africa, notions on what has been achieved and what remains to be done were discussed.

The ICPD was held in 1994 in Cairo with dedication to address population growth and the reproductive health needs of people.

This fundamentally shaped the rights of women and families, and the societies in which they live, in ways measurable and immeasurable.

With ICPD, world leaders committed to reduce preventable deaths and child birth, when they committed to respect sexual reproductive health and rights of women and to end gender-based-violence and other practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation.

Endorsements such as greater commitment and knowledge, deployment of modern multimedia tools of communication, relying on current research in developing strategies among others were made by then.

Some have been achieved whereas others are yet to be seen take fruition.

Dr Natalia Kanem, the executive director of United Nations Population Fund said that ICPD enshrined the principle that people have a right to make their own reproductive choices.

The world recognised that reproductive health as well as women empowerment and gender equality are proven pathways to sustainable development.

Kanem noted that the conference made it possible for families, communities and national Governments to embrace the concept of people at the centre of sustainable development.

She also said that this is a very critical time for Africa to invest in young people coupled with looking after their reproductive health.

Adolescent girls along with women are disproportionately affected because of disparities in income, health and education.

These recent discussions highlighted that when birth rates reduce, it makes it possible to invest more in each child.

Many African women would hence like to access modern contraceptives so that they can have a small family size in order to be able to invest in them, yet all of this trickles down to the level of education and access to information.

“Since the adoption of the ICPD framework in 1994, we have seen so much progress on the continent. The realisation of rights means that girls who were married before the age of 18 has slowly declined although of course we still have unfinished business,” Kanem said.

It is hence urgent to look after the adolescent girl child this is why the time to act is now. This will ensure that African women are not left behind in the old age paradigm, an aspect that is one of the frontiers that UNFPA has contributed.

“Our goal remains to work in partnership with everyone in order to fulfil the promise of ICPD in order to deliver a world where every childbirth is safe and for every young person in Africa to know that we are behind them for their full attention to come to fruition.”

Mark Bryan Schriener, UNFPA Representative to Rwanda noted that with UNFPA’s partnership with the Government of Rwanda, much is to be achieved in improving the lives of Rwandans.

He commends the number of achievements registered so far for instance the reduction of maternal deaths, increased access to family planning use among others.

“We celebrate these this year as UNFPA marks its 50th anniversary and 25 years for ICDP. We commend support from media for promoting population and development issues,” Schriener said.