An Egyptian's woman's perspective on CPD: The battle for sexual and reproductive health rights is still not won

woman reading EFPA's leaflet
Shadia Elshiwy – from IPPF’s Egyptian Member Association, the Egyptian Family Planning Association (EFPA) -  reveals some of the tactics used to lobby for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights at CPD 47.

Women and girls played a role that placed them at the very heart of the Arab Spring – standing side-by-side with men to overthrow regimes that in some cases had ruled for many decades.

Many women paid a big price for their courage and today those battles go on – in different ways, in different forums.

At CPD47 (the 47th Commission on Population and Development) countries around the world have come together as part of the review of the 1994 Cairo Conference – ICPD. At the very heart of what we are working for are sexual and reproductive health and rights.

But if you think a week of bartering at the UN is the whole story then think again.

In Egypt the work to ensure a strong civil society voice at CPD47 began a long time ago when my organization (EFPA) organized meetings with government, NGOs and other stakeholders in Cairo to work on the Egyptian statement for CPD.

As discussions on the different elements of the document continued we were able to raise EFPA concerns, advocating language that integrated comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), advocating safe abortion services and ensuring the promotion of youth friendly services.

At the end of the meeting EFPA proposed we decided to work with other civils society organizations in order to draft a separate statement.

The document’s recommendations included advocating for:

1-    Civil society engagement

2-    Sexual and reproductive health and rights

3-    Gender equality and elimination of gender based violence

4-    Young people

5-    Migration and refugees.

The statement was signed by 15 civil society organizations such as member associations of the national coalition against FGM/C, Cairo Association for Family Planning and Development, and Women for Development Association.

Meanwhile, our advocacy work also took place at meetings between other civil society organizations due to attend CPD47 and UNFPA representatives in Egypt.

We discussed the draft statement and some of the strategies that we would follow during CPD in terms of communications with the official delegation and the key messages that we should focus on.

EFPA raised concerns regarding the draft statement such as the failure to consult civil society and the absence of sexual and reproductive health and rights language.

During the meeting UNFPA invited civil society to attend a conference that would be organized by MOHP, UNFPA and the National Population Council under the title “Egypt Priorities of population and development beyond 2014”.

EFPA and other civil society orgainzations sent representatives to this conference but our request to be given the floor to read civil society statements was refused – an issue EFPA took up with the union of civil society organizations in Egypt, raising concerns about the denial of effective civil society engagement in the conference.

We distributed the statement to governmental representatives in the conference. We also advocated with the Ambassador from the Egyptian permanent mission at the UN and the focal person for CPD and asked for a meeting to express the priorities of civil society. The ambassador took the contacts of EFPA and promised to put us in his schedule.                                                                                                                 

And the advocacy work has continued ever since we landed in New York. Working with our colleagues EIPR, National Coalition against FGM/C and Y-PEER we conducted several hunting activities tracking down the Egyptian delegation and members of the permanent mission.

Dr Rym Falya, from IPPR’s Arab World Regional Office and I held a meeting with Ambassador Mervat Tallawy raising our concerns regarding the statement of Egypt and discussions regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights, access to safe abortion services, eradicating harmful practices against young girls, youth friendly services, and comprehensive sexuality education.

We also highlighted the projects covering these issues in Egypt that have been up and running since 2004 – and, despite the constant references by the authorities to culture and sovereignty,  explained how the communities we serve are of the rights and services we deliver.

Mrs Tallawy expressed her deep support to many of our issues - even if she is not very convinced about sexual rights arguing there is no clear definition to follow.

We also managed to meet one of the Egyptian UN mission in New York, We expressed our concerns regarding Egypt’s statement and, again, this link cultural relativism and sovereignty – an argument frequently deployed by conservative forces to resist people’s rights.

They commented that Egypt wanted to support CSE but it has to be age appropriate.

He said that Egypt does not oppose safe abortion services but the country would not be vocal in support of that issue. On the other hand argued that sexual rights were not clearly defined and that Egypt would not therefore support them.

During CPD, meetings with representatives from Egypt delegation took place discussing civil society priorities in general and calling to include them in the CPD. Several meetings with Mrs. Tallawy and other delegates were conducted in order to ensure that civil society priorities are reflected.