Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), then delivered the day’s keynote speech. He placed a ten year old girl at the heart of the fight for sexual and reproductive health and rights.
“The picture of those who are excluded is epitomized by the image of a poor little girl in a rural area, without education. She is the most vulnerable,” he remarked. “She’s married at ten, to a man four times her age. Her humanity, dignity and bodily integrity is brutally violated. Her childhood is cruelly ended. She ends up getting pregnant at 11, develops fistula and dies without us ever knowing who she is.”
But Osotimehin said the work of the past twenty years had helped change the narrative of this girl’s life. Since 1994 nearly a billion people have been lifted out of poverty, there are more girls in school, women in the workforce and women in politics, he pointed out.
“That’s progress,” he smiled.
He warned that the fight to protect and empower that ten year old girl is far from over. The next round of negotiations is expected to take aim at her human rights, by shrinking the definition of human rights to political rights. “This is about the social rights of people. People being allowed to be who they are wherever they are,” he emphasized. “You can’t have development without rights.”
He tasked delegates with getting that ten year old into school, providing her with education, information and health services as well as the self-determination to make choices about her relationships, her career and reproductive future. He then called for deep financial commitments from the entire global community, including developing nations. “We have to work with governments and tell them that progress doesn’t come from new airplanes,” he said. “It comes from human capital development and that’s where we must invest.”
The return on this investment is the creation of a healthy, prosperous global community, in which this girl becomes an important player.
“Her future is totally, inextricably linked to the future of the world,” Osotimehin remarked. “She is going to be the one to provide solutions for climate change, for agriculture, food security, she is going to provide solutions for heath care, the very things that eluded us in the past – but we need to empower her.”