International Policies, Reproductive Health Supplies

Hope in Dialogue: Thoughts on the 5th Asia and Pacific Conference

by Suzanne Ehlers

The 5th Asia and Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights (APCRSHR) is currently underway in Beijing, China. Today, I am moderating a session co-hosted by the Asia Pacific Alliance (APA) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The session, titled Meet the Donors, explored resource mobilization and Millennium Development Goal 5 (improving maternal health) through the lens of a theme raised in the day’s opening sessions: In a climate of continuing financial gloom, how is it that an intervention as cost effective as family planning and reproductive health is still having difficulty mobilizing adequate resources?

Yet those of us in the sexual and reproductive health and rights community can identify long-time donors, both public and private, who have pushed the limits of their supportive capacity. At the national level, indigenous advocacy partners, service providers, and countless champions within national governments will go to bat for the issue as often as they are asked. They have seen the famous RAPID models; they have not missed the analysis that shows the undeniable return that one gets from investing in the reproductive health needs of women and their families.

What was clear from the donor roundtable, and from subsequent sessions that have addressed climate change, integrating reproductive health and HIV, and other nexus issues, is that the Asia Pacific region, like most of the world, understands the urgency of our predicament and is willing to explore new and alternative paradigms. Some guideposts exist, as suggested by Dr. Shiva Kumar on UNICEF India, including equity, the full protection and promotion of human rights (including sexual and reproductive rights), democracy, and the preeminence of women’s experience and leadership. These should be easy enough to get behind they are principles that have guided our work as a community since at least Cairo in 1994, and some would even argue many years before Cairo.

Population Action International has long believed in the value of dialogue, and in fact we have dedicated core resources over many decades to convening and facilitating such exchange. A conference such as the 5th APCRSHR is heartwarming for me, as I look around the session rooms and at the youth commitment desk and see scores of others who share our values regarding dialogue. Ironic perhaps that the backdrop of this conference is a country government that has long struggled with such dialogue but there is often a hope in the unseen, and the advocates gathered here in Beijing give one much reason for belief.

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