Experience from ICPD25: Engage men and boys as allies in achieving SRHR for all

25 years ago, at the International Conference on Population & Development (ICPD), the world agreed, by consensus, that sexual and reproductive health is a human right. The world agreed that no mother should die while giving life. The world agreed that women are the equal of men, and that gender-based violence and discrimination has no place in the modern world. It also proved that- Gender equality can not be achieved without the involvement of men and boys. The Program of Action (PoA) of ICPD not only articulated the centrality of gender equality as a requirement for improving sexual and reproductive health, but also noted the imperative of engaging men to promote gender equality. It emphasized on men’s shared responsibility to promote sexual and reproductive health and to support the empowerment of women and girls. Meeting the sexual and reproductive health needs of men and boys and engaging them as partners in family planning is critical for cultivating healthy norms and behaviors that will lead to better health outcomes and lasting social change.

In the past 25 years, progress has been made in recognizing the importance and development of interventions that engage men and boys to address harmful masculinity most often in the context of sexual and reproductive health programmes. We change makers have also called for addressing boys and men’s health in its own right. In the context of Bangladesh, the enrollment rate of boys at health centers for receiving SRH services is lower than that of girls. Its a great news that Bangladesh has built commitment to engage more males in family planning programs on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the groundbreaking ICPD.

As a Change Maker, I was privileged to attend the Nairobi Summit, which was an inclusive forum, bringing together a chorus of voices from countries and communities around the world. More than 9,500 delegates from more than 170 countries, including Bangladesh whose delegation included the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Planning, four Members of Parliament, academicians, Civil Society leaders and a large group of youth and others converged was joined at the Kenyatta International Conference Center on 12-14 November.

It was a great chance to meet and engage with so many brave, beautiful and bold colleagues and friends, listen in to mind-blowing sessions, re energize, connecting, and sparking change.

At the Summit, convened by the Governments of Kenya and Denmark with the UNFPA, partners made bold commitments to transform the world by ending all maternal deaths, unmet need for family planning, gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls by 2030. On the high-level summit was addressed some important topics including building financial momentum to tackle the issues of maternal mortality, sexual and reproductive health and rights; accelerating action to end violence against girls and women; demographic dividend; and the role that private sectors and businesses play in helping to advance women and girls. Summit attendees stepped up with specific and concrete commitments to help the world reach these goals.

As a youth delegate, I was engaged directly with heads of state, and governments promised to include young people’s meaningful participation in decision-making, heading the call: “Make space for us. Listen to what we young people are saying and respond to that. Nothing about us, without us!”

At the Nairobi summit on ICPD25, The session “Men and boys’ rights to sexual and reproductive health”, was moderated by Justine Coulson, UNFPA Deputy Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, enabled reflection on the role of men and boys as clients, partners and agents of change for gender equality. Opened by Queen Masenate Mohato Bereng Seeiso of Lesotho, the session explored how men and boys’ needs in terms of their sexual and reproductive health and rights can be addressed, as well as the social norms that need to be transformed in order to enable this change. The need for working with men and boys to confront patriarchal notions of being a male, as the root cause of gender inequality, was the focus of Vitaly Djuma, Dr. Margaret Greene, Promundo, Magaly Marquis, Global SRHR coordinator of MenEngage Alliance . Professor Juan Battle, Professor, CUNY; Ms. Mabel Sengendo Nabaggala, Sonke Gender Justice; and Justine Coulson, Dr. Thoai Ngo, Population Council spoke at this session as panel speakers.

Before the Nairobi summit, I was privileged to join a two-day long capacity building workshop hosted by Women’s Global Network on Reproductive Rights (WGNRR). WGNRR had established the SHE Acts Alliance (Strong, Harmonized and Empowered Advocacy Alliance) , a grassroots-led network that commits to Learning, connecting and strengthening our work, developing effective strategies to advance SRHR advocacy and campaigning across African countries and contexts. Part of this alliance, some promising grassroots advocates of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and abortion rights organisations from five countries in Africa was gathered in Nairobi, Kenya to enhancing each others’ strategies and approaches to effectively address laws, policies, taboo, stigma and opposition around SRHR in Africa. By this pre summit workshop, they tried to find out some advocacy points and strategies to hold their own governments accountable to advance the implementation of the ICPD agenda as an indispensable part of the 2030 Agenda.

The grassroots SRHR advocates made commitment to work collectively ensuring positive masculinity, male engagement and supporting men in advocating for bodily autonomy, access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health as allies, activists and advocates for change to ensure that the ICPD plan of action is realised. Attending on this workshop, we some selected change makers from MenEngage Alliance had gained deeper knowledge on grassroots advocacy on rights to access safe abortion information and services. We also learned some best practices and advocacy techniques which helped on our ICPD25 summit works.

At this workshop, we presented a poster paper and did a role play on how we can advocate with our country delegation for male engagement on family planning programs during the Nairobi summit. It was an exciting cross learning opportunity from other continents. We shared our advocacy experiences and country context addressing SRHR. We understand that connecting grassroots communities is crucial, and that the success of our work depends on how effectively we can mobilize women and girls to become advocates, activists, or allies.

In Bangladesh country context, the Boys and young men engagement rate in SRH services is very little. Attending the Nairobi summit, I have talked on this issue with the Bangladesh delegation including the Minister of Health and Family Planning. He built commitment for increasing more male engagement on family planning issue.

Way forward

The Nairobi Statement calls on partners to “report periodically on the progress towards fulfilling these commitments through transparent means and/or in appropriate public forums. UNFPA is now working with partners to develop a mechanism to hold all commitment-makers to account. Bangladeshi young leaders, civil society representatives, academicians and government representatives had a meeting regarding the takeaways from Nairobi Summit and discussing the future advocacy plan based on the PoA of ICPD25. Regular advocacy and follow-up is required with the responsible authority with a monitoring mechanism. It is time to deliver and hold governments accountable to fulfill their commitment with a concrete action plan which they mentioned as `unfinished business’. Also make sure the three zero’s will be realized everywhere, and that everyone will be served.

Sohanur Rahman is a Change Maker at ‘SRHR for All’. Reach him out at kishanibd@gmail.com

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