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Postcards from Rarotonga:Reflections and Reports from the FemLINKPACIFIC Community Media Team

12th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women

Agenda Item 3: Womenโ€™s Legal and Human Rights

Presentation on Lessons learnt on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights

1. I am Virisila Buadromo representing an emergent coalition of over 32 organisations and networks across 10 Pacific states, which have been working together for the past 2 years to advance Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights in the Pacific. We work with allies in States and civil society and based on decades of work by feminist and womenโ€™s movements in the region to ensure quality, integrated and accessible sexual and reproductive health rights for all, without discrimination.

2. The coalition is represented by Puanga Tauturu ( PTI), the Fiji Women Movement, the Diverse Voices and Actions for Equality ( DIVA), the Pacific Youth Council and international network, Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era.

3. My presentation will focus on three critical SRHR areas, the context it operates in, the challenges and three strategies to move forward.

4. Sexual and reproductive health services continue to be under-funded across the region, despite an influx of resourcing around HIV prevention over the last decade. This is because integration of services has been poor, with less attention paid to contraceptive information and delivery and other SRH services. With the low prevalence of HIV in most of the Pacific, apart from PNG, successes in policy and resourcing in this area have often come at the expense of other basic SRH services โ€“ because of this lack of integration.

5. In UNFPAโ€™s most recent review of ICPD PoA progress in the region, all fourteen Pacific countries surveyed indicated that SRH was an integral part of their health care; it was included in their health budget with referral mechanisms and guidelines in place and statistics disaggregated by sex and age (Wilkinson and Walls, 2013:15). All fourteen Pacific countries currently have policies in place for improving SRH and operational frameworks for implementing these (Wilkinson and Walls, 2013:37). However, only three, PNG, Vanuatu and Tuvalu, have formulated national population policies. Samoa and Solomon Islands have draft policies. While there are national strategies for HIV, Wilkinson and Walls (2013) note that these do not generally address additional risk factors such as cultural attitudes, sexual behaviour and the availability and access of information, prevention and treatment.

6. CEDAW constitute human rights commitments that require Pacific governments to implement comprehensive and integrated SRHR services (Wilkinson and Walls, 2013). However, national laws relating to abortion, sexual orientation and gender identity, and sex work often prevent SRHR services from being as comprehensive as these human rights commitments necessitate (Jalal, 2009; UNAIDS, 2010; Godwin, 2012).

7. The Cairo Programme of Action 1994 (PoA) recognises that adolescents have specific sexual and reproductive health needs and rights. Meeting these needs within the Pacific context is particularly important in light of its demographic situation, with almost 50% of the population under 25 years of age and a third of the adult working population aged between 15-24 (Narsey et. al, 2010:213; Turagabeci and Tuivanualevu, 2012:6).

8. In this context, a major SRHR issue that requires immediate attention is comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) for young people. The latest ICPD regional study by UNFPA has found that too often CSE is not provided and/or educators are not supported to teach it effectively (FPI et. al, 2009:8). It is also equally necessary to provide CSE for out-of-school youth.

9. CSE is an urgent issue in the Pacific that needs to be addressed. This is because two of the major SRHR related issues affecting young people are the high rates of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. Across the Pacific, low usage of contraception among youth constitutes a major risk factor for both STIs and teenage pregnancies with current statistics revealing less than 20% of young women and fewer than 50% of young men aged 15-19 reporting ever having used a modern method of contraception, including condoms (NZPGPD, 2012:1). On average, one in four youths who are sexually active in the Pacific has an STI (Wilkinson and Walls, 2013:36).

10. The ICPD+10 progress report highlighted efforts taken by PICs to address adolescent SRH issues (UNFPA, 2004). Among those at the regional level were UNFPA and SPC sponsored ARH projects that promoted the rights of youth through SRHR services and information both through and outside of formal education programmes (UNFPA, 2004). Regional plans exist for both the prevention and control of STIs and for achieving universal access to RH services and commodities (NZPGPD, 2012:11). However, these regional projects and policies, along with national social policies for youth in eleven of twelve surveyed PICs (Wilkinson and Walls, 2013), have not generally translated into the full implementation of CSE. Nauru is the exception.

11. It is also particularly important to think of Pacific young people as a diverse group who have to negotiate power over their bodies based on gender, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, level of education, country or sub-region of origin, whether they are from a larger island or a smaller one, live in a rural area or a peri-urban one, are of chiefly status or not.

12. Young people are a popular focus of regional and national policy, including in relation to SRH, however there has been very little headway towards realising the human rights of diverse Pacific young people. The draft Pacific Youth Development Framework (2013) has identified the lack of implementation, resources and political will, as some possible reasons. CSE should be seen as a human rights concern and not solely as education sector or health sector issue.

13. In the region the sexual and reproductive rights issues that stand out because of their urgency, severity or importance in relation to the ICPD PoA are: gender-based violence; and the restriction of rights in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, sex work and abortion.

14. While addressing sexual and gender based violence is the most prominent womenโ€™s rights issue at the regional level, unpacking the patriarchal power hierarchies that nurture this violence, and looking closer at the links between SGBV and SRHR is less popular. This is particularly so when looking at GBV in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, and the marginalisation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) persons.

15. In the struggle for sexual rights, it is not just public policy spaces, law enforcement and conservative island communities that are hostile to LGBTQI persons โ€“ some of those working in womenโ€™s rights also often find it hard to deal with sexuality. For example, the Fiji Womenโ€™s Forum, a group of women leaders working towards democracy in Fiji, included transwomen from its inaugural gathering, in a quietly radical reframing of what it means to be a Fijian woman. However, the space was not always comfortable for trans* and lesbian women, and the participation of transwomen continues to be debated among the co-conveners.

16. In conclusion I want to highlight three key interventions that I think speaks to the theme of this meeting โ€œ Celebrating our progress, shaping our world.โ€

17. Firstly I want to reiterate the work thatโ€™s being done to advance SRHR nationally, regionally and internationally in the lead up to the ICPD +20 and advocacy on the post 2015 development agenda. Important work is being carried out by a loose coalition of Pacific feminists is taking on these difficult sexual and reproductive rights issues. This is being driven by Punanga Tauturu, the Fiji Womenโ€™s Rights Movement, DIVA, the Pacific Youth Council and DAWN. The agenda of our coalition is based on an outcomes statement: โ€œPacific Feminists and Activists: Re-framing, Re-articulating and Re-energizing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights!โ€ that came out of a feminist strategy meeting held in Nadi in February 2013.

18. The second significant intervention is the MOANA declaration that was signed by parliamentarians who attended the Pacific Conference of Parliamentarians for Advocacy in the ICPD Beyond 2014, held in Suva in August this year. The declaration clearly articulated the linked nature of all 18 important commitments

made at the meeting. They included non-communicable diseases, commitment to โ€œ reshaping the ICPD Beyond 2014 and post 2015 development agenda at the regional and global levels through our strong advocacy and participationโ€ and a commitment to โ€œ speak with a strong voice โ€œon issues of SRHR in all fora. There was also strong commitment to increase women and young peopleโ€™s participation in decision-making in political, social and economic processes at all levels.

19. The third intervention, which is also the result of the two aforementioned interventions was the Pacific โ€˜s strong advocacy that resulted in solid and powerful text at the 6th Asia Pacific Population Conference held in Bangkok, last month.

20. During the conference negotiations, strong leadership on sexual and reproductive health and rights issues came from the Governments of Cook Islands, Kiribatis, Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Tonga, PNG, FSM, Nauru, Marshall Islands and Solomon Islands. They were also supported by like-minded Asian countries.

21. The conference clearly marked a progressive shift in the Asia Pacific region โ€“ with overwhelming support for meeting the sexual and reproductive rights of all people โ€“ irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

22. The likeminded countries that championed progressive positions throughout the conference. The group was convened by Phillipines and represented by Cook Islands. The Pacific stood fast in solidarity. This group championed SRHR priorities and held strong despite strong pressure Russia and Iran. In this space, Pacific feminists, SRHR activists and UNFPA Pacific office worked closely to strengthen, prepare and support our Pacific delegations.

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Source: FemLINKPacific - GPPAC Pacific
When: 26/10/2013

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