ICPD Global Youth Forum: Diversity of genders, but not of worldview

Posted on | December 6, 2012 by Rebecca Oas, Ph.D |

According to the website of the ICPD Global Youth Forum:

“Recommendations from the Global Youth Forum will be presented by the Secretary General of the United Nations to the General Assembly. Like the watershed International Conference on Population and Development in 1994, the ICPD Beyond 2014 Review will have a profound influence on future policy at national, regional and global levels, keeping human rights at the heart of development.”

While the recommendations coming out of the Global Youth Forum’s section on “Families, youth-rights and well-being (including sexuality)” read as a laundry list of the most extreme positions attempting to find their way into UN documents, this outcome is hardly surprising considering the organizers of the event and the way the process of producing the recommendations has been regulated.

On a website outlining the background on the event, it gives the three goals this forum is intended to help achieve:

1. Identify best practices for addressing issues related to youth and promoting their well-being and rights.

2. Generate data and information as well as concrete recommendations on youth issues for the global reports, based on a technical consultation on adolescent and youth programming experiences of NGOs, the UN, governments, the private sector and academia.

3. Build visibility and global consensus and support for action on youth issues.

It would seem that the most effective method of building consensus is to begin with it.  When it comes to identifying best practices and generating concrete recommendations, the answers to those questions depend largely on who is being asked.  Chief among the organizations sponsoring the event is the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which has a long-documented history of pushing for abortion rights, despite a stated position that it will not do so.

Likewise, the Steering Committee for the Youth Forum includes representatives of multiple organizations, most of which explicitly support abortion, including the Ford Foundation, the Youth Coalition, International Center for Research on Women, Youth Peer Education Network (Y-PEER), CHOICE, Alianza de Juventudes Rumbo a Cairo + 20, RESURJ, Restless Development, ARROW, IPPF, AfriYan, CIVICUS, WYWCA, Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association, and Astra Youth.

The Steering Committee includes two youth advocates, who presented opening statements (transcribed here) at the beginning of the youth forum.  One of them, Rinaldi Ridwan, serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, and is also Youth Coordinator for YSNAP with the International Planned Parenthood Federation.  The other is Rishita Nandagiri, a Programme Officer with the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights.

Setting the stage for the forum, Mr. Ridwan left no doubt as to his priorities:

“This entails young people enjoying and exercising their sexual and reproductive rights, including their sexualities, sexual orientations, and gender identities. Gender- not in a binary- equality, equity, and sexual and reproductive health and rights are central and foundational for any concepts of sustainable development.”

Likewise, Ms. Nandagiri:

“It is imperative to challenge the specific stigma and taboo that young women face, such as abortion. Recognizing and supporting young women’s autonomies, their bodily integrity, and ensuring their safety is a priority which must not be compromised upon on any grounds. We cannot ignore this reality, and must uphold bodily integrity as a core human right. Safe abortion services, information and support must be guaranteed and accessible to young women, without fear or threat of violence, discrimination, stigma, or judgment.”

The application for youth delegates, which can be seen here, includes “a commitment to the values of the ICPD” among the factors for consideration.  Virtual delegates applying to participate online must first sign on to a list of “Principles of the ICPD Programme of Action” which includes the following:

“Everyone has the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. All couples and individuals have the basic right to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children and to have the information, education and means to do so.”

and

“The family is the basic unit of society and, as such, should be strengthened. It is entitled to receive comprehensive protection and support. Various forms of the family exist.”

In her opening remarks, Ms. Nandagiri pointed out that young people are extremely diverse, citing “age, ability, gender identity, class, race, ethnicity, sexuality, sexual orientation, culture, religious beliefs, the languages we speak and the contexts- cultural, social, political, economic, religious- that we live in” as some of the categories of that diversity.  However, an observer to the proceedings might wonder how much of that diversity of culture and beliefs had managed to find its way into the Global Youth Forum, given the composition of its steering committee and the boldness of the statements made by its leaders on some of the most controversial issues facing us today.  It would seem that when it comes to worldview, even “binary” would have been more diverse.

Statements made during the course of the youth forum continued with the themes established in the opening session.  Paulini Turagabeci, a delegate from Fiji, weighed in on the abortion issue:

“These two topics on abortion and homosexuality, is really volatile topics of discussions back home, because abortion is only legal back home in Fiji to save a mother’s life, and I just want to make it simple: when we talk about abortion and homosexuality, it’s really a moral debate, and I just want to say that regardless of your religious background, you cannot be the moral compass for someone else.  So, we have a great example, the lady in Ireland who died was a practicing Hindu, and in Ireland, they are practicing Catholics, and because of that, she couldn’t have an abortion, and it was too late to save her life.  So, just a simple reminder: keep your religion, but don’t force it on others, because you just can’t be a moral compass for anyone else, just yourself.”

As a side note, Ms. Turagabeci might be surprised to know that UNICEF, one of the sponsoring organizations of the ICPD Global Youth Forum referred to the Convention on the Rights of the Child as a “moral compass” in a document titled “The State of the World’s Children”, and the UN’s Universal Declaration on Human Rights has likewise been compared to just such an instrument.  (She also might be surprised to find out that Hinduism takes a negative view of abortion, although its teachings are most frequently violated for the purpose of eliminating unwanted daughters.)  However, despite attempts to present an image of a democratic process at work, it is clear that the compass of the Global Youth Forum was set long before the delegates were selected, and that their selection was designed to provide a rubber stamp of “global youth” approval on a set of priorities which were intended to ensure that there will be fewer of them in future generations.

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Turtle Bay and Beyond is a blog covering international law, policy and institutions. Our experts - at the UN, European Institutions, and elsewhere - explore an authentic understanding of international law, sovereignty, and the dignity of the human person. We expose those who would seek to impose a radical social vision that is contrary to these principles.

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