JOHANNESBURG, May 09 (IPS) – Parliamentarians from more than 30 countries agreed to send a strong message to the G7 Hiroshima Summit in Japan later this year, focusing on human security and support of vulnerable communities, including women, girls, youth, aging people, migrants, and indigenous people, among others.
The wide-ranging declaration also called on governments to support active political and economic participation for women and girls, enhancing and implementing legislation that addresses gender-based violence (GBV) and eradicating harmful practices like child, early, and forced marriages. During discussions and in the declaration, a clear message emerged that budgetary requirements for Universal Health Care (UHC) should be prioritized and the exceptional work done by health workers during the pandemic be recognized.
In his keynote address, Japan’s Prime Minister Kishida Fumio reminded delegates that Covid-19 had exposed the “fragility of the global health architecture and underscored the need for UHC.”
Kishida said that the central vision of the G7 Hiroshima Summit was to emphasize the importance of addressing human security – through building global health architecture, including the “governance for prevention, preparedness, and response to public health crises, including finance. We believe it is important for the G7 to actively and constructively contribute to efforts to improve international governance, secure sustainable financing and strengthen international norms.”
Apart from contributing to resilient, equitable, and sustainable UHC, health innovation was needed to promote a “more effective global ecosystem to enable rapid research and development and equitable access to infectious disease crisis medicines … and to support aging society,” Kishida said.
Former Prime Minister of Japan Fukuda Yasuo, Chair of APDA, and Honorary Chair of JPFP said this conference and its declaration would follow in a tradition of delivering strong messages to the G7 that improving reproductive health was crucial to the development and the future of a planet which now had 8 million people living on it.
“International Community is becoming increasingly confrontational and divided, and there is the emergence of a national leader who is threatening the use of nuclear weapons. No nuclear weapons have been used in the nearly 80 years since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We must work together to prevent the use of nuclear weapons, which can take many precious lives and people’s daily lives. In this instance, I would like you to search for the path toward appeasement and not division. We must keep all channels of dialogue open so as to ease tension,” Fukuda asked of the conference.
While calling on parliamentarians to work together to address challenges, Fukuda also expressed concern about the widening inequities caused by Covid-19 and climate change and noted: “This network of parliamentarians on population and development has been a vital resource for parliamentarians who share the same concern for not only their own countries but for the entire planet and future generations.”
Kamikawa Yoko, MP Japan, Chair of JPFP, said that with a world population of 8 billion, it was essential to “realize a society where no one is left behind … and Japan would share its experiences of being on the frontlines of an aging society with declining birth rates. “We are living in an aging society … and given these challenges in Japan, we will try to share with you our experience and lessons through our diplomacy while trying to deepen our discussions and exchanges to seek solutions.”
Japan’s Foreign Affairs Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa said it was essential for all to cooperate during the “Anthropocene era, when human activities have promised to have a major impact on the global environment, global issues that transcend national borders, such as climate change, and the spread of infectious diseases, including Covid-19 are becoming more and more prevalent.”
He reminded the delegates that at the center of Japan’s economic growth post World War II was mainly through health promotion and employment policies.
Director of the Division for Communications and Strategic Partnerships of UNFPA, Ian McFarlane, said it was not about the “numbers of people but the rights of the people that matter. It’s not about whether we are too many or too few, but whether women and girls can decide if, when, and how many children to have.”
A recent UNFPA report indicated that nearly half of the women across the globe could not exercise their rights and choices, their bodily autonomy, and expressed hope that policies in the future continue to focus on humanity and universal human rights.
Despite being close to the 30th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), the conference heard that much still needed to be done regarding women’s rights.
New Zealand MP and co-chair of AFPPD Standing Committee on Gender Equality and Women Empowerment, Angela Warren-Clark, reminded the audience that women still only held 26 percent of parliamentarian seats globally. While women make up 70 percent of the workforce in the health sector, only 25 percent have senior leadership positions.
“It is women in this pandemic who bore the increased burden of unpaid work at home as schools were closed, and it is girls and the poorest families who were taken out of school and forced into early marriages … We believe that if women had an equal say in decision-making during the pandemic, some of these mistakes would have been avoided.”
Baroness Elizabeth Barker, MP from the United Kingdom, told parliamentarians their role was to ensure that “no person on earth, from the head of G7 country to a poor person in a village, can say that they do not know what gender equality is. And they do not know what gender violence is.”
Barker suggested they use international standards, like the Istanbul Convention on Violence Against Women, to compare countries. “And you know that if your country doesn’t come out very well, they really don’t like it.”
She pointed to two successes in the UK, including stopping virginity testing and tackling the practice of forced marriages. She also warned the delegates that there was a right-wing campaign aimed at destroying human rights gained, and they chose different battlegrounds. The overturning of abortion rights in the United States in the Roe vs. Wade case was an example, as was the anti-LGBTQ legislation in Uganda.
Hassan Omar, MP from Djibouti, gave a host of achievements in his country, including ensuring that women occupy 25 percent roles in politics and the state administration and the growing literacy of women numbers in his country.
Risa Hontiveros, MP Philippines, painted a bleak picture of the impact of Covid in her country.
Hontiveros said GBV increased during Covid and extended to the digital space.
“The Internet has become a breeding ground for predators and cyber criminals to prey on children, especially young women, and girls. The online sexual abuse and exploitation of children … has become so prevalent in the Philippines that we have been tagged as the global hotspot.”
In a desperate attempt to provide for their families, even parents produced “exploitative material of their own children and sold them online to pedophiles abroad.”
To address these, she filed a gender-responsive and inclusive Emergency Management Act bill, which seeks to address the gender-differentiated needs of women and girls, because they were “disproportionately affected in times of emergencies.”
Former MP from Afghanistan Khadija Elham’s testimony united many in the conference and even resulted in proposals from the floor to include a condemnation of the Taliban’s women’s policies.
Elham said GBV had increased since the Taliban took over – women were forced to wear a burqa in public, they were not allowed to work, and those who wish to “learn science or (get an) education are forced to continue their studies and hidden places like basements.”
If their secret schools are exposed, they face torture and imprisonment. During the last two months, 260 people, including 50 women, were publicly whipped – a clear violation of their human rights. Women’s representation in political life has been banned, and women are no longer allowed to work in NGOs – and it has been “550 days since women could attend high schools and universities.”
She called on the international community, the United Nations, to pressure the Taliban to restore women’s work and education rights.
Nakayama Maho, Director of the Peacebuilding Program at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, announced new research on factors contributing to men’s propensity to GBV. The research found that the higher a man’s educational attainment, the lower the level of violence. There were also lower levels of violence with “positive” masculinity – such as a man being employed, married, and capable of protecting his family. Men who experienced violence during times of conflict tended to support violence to instill discipline, or protect women and communities.
Dr Roopa Dhatt, Executive Director of Women in Global Health, summed up this critical session by saying, “Equal leadership for women in all fields is a game changer, particularly in politics and health.”
Japan’s Health, Labour and Welfare Minister, Kato Katsunobu, noted during his closing address that the G7 countries “share the recognition that investment in people is not an expense, but an investment… and as you invest in people you can create a virtuous cycle between workers well-being and social and economic activities.”
He said Japan had a lot to offer concerning aging populations.
“Japan has been promoting the establishment of a comprehensive community-based care system so that people can continue to live in their own way in their own neighborhood until the end of their lives and is in the position to provide knowledge to the G7 countries and other countries who will be facing (an aging population) in the future.”
Dr Alvaro Bermejo, Director-General of IPPF, commended the conference and said he was “thankful” that the conference declaration would tell G7 governments to set an example. “Marginalized and excluded populations are at the heart of human security and can only be achieved in solidarity, and that message from this conference is clear.”
Professor Takemi Keizo, MP Japan, Chair of AFPPD, summed up the proceeding by saying that parliamentarians as representatives of the electorate were vital to creating a “positive momentum in this global community and overcoming so many difficult issues.”
Takemi elaborated on some issues facing the world now, including climate change and military conflicts, but as parliamentarians, there was the opportunity to “build up the new basis of the global governance, which can be very beneficial.”
NOTE: Global Conference of Parliamentarians on Population and Development Toward the 2023 G7 Hiroshima Summit was organized by the Asian Population and Development Association (APDA), the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (AFPPD), and the Japan Parliamentarians Federation for Population (JPFP).
It was supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (MOFA), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Japan Trust Fund (JTF), and Keidanren-Japan Business Federation in cooperation with the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).
IPS UN Bureau Report
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