Pop quiz: How is it that Country X, who receives tens of millions of dollars of donor assistance on family planning, as well as makes a progressive and meaningful commitment to a global initiative such as Family Planning 2020 (FP2020), can sit in a negotiating room at the United Nations and actively block progress on the same agenda?
It’s a question that, over the years, has baffled advocates at the annual U.N. Commission on Population and Development (CPD). The gap between mission and capital—between positions taken in New York by a country’s Mission to the U.N. and the perspective of government officials where the country’s citizens actually live, work and go to school—can cause confusion and backsliding, regardless of the actual distance measured in kilometers.
This week, that gap is sadly alive and well. While we have an enormous amount of sympathy for busy and over-stretched government personnel, we have less patience for mission politics, where those in the negotiating room join an insider’s game of posturing, paralyzing and more. What is more perplexing, though, is another gap between plenary, in Conference Room A, and informal negotiations, in Conference Room B. The distance is negligible, perhaps 30 feet, and yet the same yawning disconnect persists.
For example, as delegates awaited a streamlined text from which we could continue our work on Day 4 of 5 at the 47th CPD, I joined the plenary where we worked through a long list of country statements. The rhetoric was outstanding in many instances—on human rights and youth, on sexual orientation and gender identity, on safe and legal abortion, on ending child marriage, on sexual rights and more. And yet literally across the hall, in the negotiations, we’re quibbling over whether gender-based violence is a problem that needs addressing (it is), whether comprehensive sexuality education delays sexual debut and decreases unintended pregnancies among young people (it does), and whether accountability applies to all governments, both developed and developing (yes!).
Women and girls in households and communities across the world already mind some key gaps: the wage gap they face when compared with their male counterparts; their likely gap in education (in many parts of the world); and their gap in access to property rights and ownership—to name just a few.
Let’s not make them mind another one, and instead fight this afternoon and tomorrow for a grand convergence of views, perspectives and courage—from conference room to conference room, from mission to capital. We have an opportunity to take progressive action to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights, and issue a strong mandate that ensuring these rights for ALL must be central to the post-2015 agenda.
In other words, let’s go big before we go home. One day to go.