Health Rights and Gender Equality in the Post-2015 Development Framework

The Storting, 11 June 2015

State Secretary Hans Brattskar's key note speech at the high level dialogue on "Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and Gender Equality in the Post-2015 Development Framework" in Oslo 11 June.

Dear friends,
members of the Storting,
members of the Corps Diplomatique,
members of Sex and Politics,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

I highly appreciate this opportunity to exchange views with an audience composed of persons with such a wide range of expertise and background on a very important and at the same time very challenging issue – sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). May I add that I am particularly happy for the possibility to interact with our distinguished guests from the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), Director General Tewodros Melesse and Ms Amina Stavritis who is the Executive Director of The Palestianian Family Planning and Protection Association. Feedback from the country level is essential to guide us, as development partners, on how best to proceed in order to advance this agenda and avoid stumbling blocks that might impede progress.

The IPPFs Vision 2020 report, which is launched here today, provides ample evidence about the many benefits for girls' and women's lives when their right to sexual and reproductive health is fulfilled. The report also points to the link between women's reproductive health and education and the multiplier effect of combining these two areas of work. This evidence informs our development policy choices that has education, with an emphasis on girls, as a top priority. Access to quality education and to health is the best way to ensure that girls and women can realise to the fullest degree their potential in all spheres of public and private life. For their own benefit, of course. But much more than that.

Emancipated, independent and well-educated women are key to families' and societies well-being, and to achieve poverty eradication through sustainable development - the ultimate goal of the new development agenda which the UN member countries are set to approve this September.

As noted in the concept note provided by the convener of this dialogue, Sex and Politics, Norway has actively pursued the inclusion of sexual and reproductive health and rights in the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

We have advocated that they should be included both under the health and the gender equality goals. In spite of strong support from more than 50 countries representing all regions of the world - Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe – we did not however succeed in obtaining consensus on the inclusion of sexual rights, which remain a contested and divisive notion. But we have been able to help secure approval for the strongest commitments agreed in the UN on this matter, that is universal access to sexual and reproductive health services and to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. This means that all countries are committed to fulfil the right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly about the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, including modern means of contraception.

This might seem a limited victory. Still, we need to remember that agreeing to commitments in a policy document is different from agreeing on an agenda with targets and indicators. Countries are supposed to report on progress towards quite ambitious targets with the understanding that the deadline is 2030: elimination of all forms of discrimination against all women and girls, everywhere, and of all forms of violence against women, including harmful practices like Female Genital Mutilation and child marriage. The negotiations in New York are not finalised yet but we expect that these targets will prevail as they stand today.

Another challenging issue related to sexual and reproductive health is comprehensive sexuality education. On this score too, the opposition was too strong. However, we managed to get in some language into the sustainable development goal on health that could serve as a springboard for dialogues at the country level to take this issue forward.

Talking about the country level, I want to emphasise the contrast between what is happening there compared to the negotiating table in New York. Comprehensive sexuality education is a case in point. 63 developing countries have to date included this in their curricula. Few, if any of these countries have supported the proposal by Norway and others to include comprehensive sexuality education as a target in the post-2015 agenda.

This brings me to the question posed by Sex and Politics – how can governments and civil society work together to move in a seamless manner from the MDGs to the SDGs. From our point of view this is a crucial link. We have seen the difference that civil society can make at the negotiating table. Some of the targets related to gender equality would probably not have made their way into the post-2015 agenda without the NGOs efficient and effective advocacy. One telling example is access for girls and women to sanitation and hygiene in schools and the work place, a seemingly trivial issue but in reality a necessity to make their right to education, to health and to a decent job a reality. Civil society will also have a crucial role to play when it comes to implementing the 17 goals and as many as169 targets that are likely to be approved in September in New York. Through advocacy, program activities and by holding their governments accountable on their commitments.

Since we have a unique opportunity to benefit from the presence of a global civil society organisation with a remarkable clout, I would like to ask the two panelists how they see the role of IPPF in supporting the implementation at country level of the post-2015 targets related to sexual and reproductive health and, more broadly, to gender equality.

Secondly, I would also be interested to hear your assessment and advice on how we should move forward to build stronger support from developing countries in favour of sexual rights.

On this score, I must complement the IPPF for having done what has not been possible to do at the UN, namely to propose a declaration outlining in no uncertain terms what should be included under the concept of sexual rights. I hope both of you could elaborate a bit on the challenges, the opportunities and the progress you see to get buy- in and support at country level for this agenda.

Our government has committed itself, through a White paper on human rights that was approved by Stortinget earlier this year, to work for international acceptance of sexual rights. We are fully aware that countries from the global South have a key role to play in this regard. We are therefore encouraged that in addition to South Africa, Mozambique recently legalised same sex activity and that more and more developing countries, particularly in Latin-America, but also in Asia are moving forward, including on LGBT-rights.

Your experiences and lessons learnt from the work you are doing to promote acceptance of sexual rights at the country level would be of the highest interest to us.

Thank you for your attention!