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Inclusion and equal access are priorities as UNFPA’s Deputy Executive Director visits Myanmar

7 June 2018
UNFPA’s Laura Londén meets clients and staff at a Marie Stopes International sexual and reproductive health and rights clinic in Yangon.
UNFPA’s Laura Londén meets clients and staff at a Marie Stopes International sexual and reproductive health and rights clinic in Yangon.

Laura Londén, UNFPA Deputy Executive Director and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, visited Myanmar from 16-19 May, 2018. She was accompanied by Björn Andersson, UNFPA Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific. An important part of the mission was to seek common ground for providing services for women and girls affected by conflict and crisis, and to call for inclusion and equal access. Ms. Londén met with the Government, donors, partners and other stakeholders. She consulted with women from community-based civil society organizations from Chin, Kachin, Kayah, Rakhine and Shan, and she listened to the experiences of women who identify as Rohingya and who are confined to camps in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

“We need to find joint entry points so that we can deliver the services and support that women and girls in Myanmar need. Our priorities are inclusion and equal access”, said Ms. Londén.

Individual rights at the heart of policy

Ms. Londén had individual meetings in Nay Pyi Taw with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and the Union Ministers for Health and Sports; Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement; Labour, Immigration and Population; and Planning and Finance.

In the meetings with the State Counsellor and the Minister for Labour, Immigration and Population, Ms. Londén and Mr.  Andersson stressed the importance of approaching population issues from the perspective of individual rights - for individuals to have opportunities to fulfil their potential, both the current situation and challenges ahead must be addressed.

“There is no perfect size or composition for a country’s population. Experience from around the world shows that general population policies are not helpful to promoting development and human rights. What matters most is that a country has sector-specific policies and strategies in place to provide for the needs of its population, including young people, women and the elderly”, said Mr. Andersson in the meeting with the State Counsellor.

Call for increased budget for family planning

The dialogue with the State Counsellor also focused on the need to bring maternal health care and services to remote areas, and the critical role of skilled midwives in bringing down Myanmar’s high maternal mortality. They also discussed the importance of access to opportunities for young people.

In the ministerial meetings and in a meeting with parliamentarians, Ms. Londén illustrated how the UNFPA 2018-2022 Myanmar Country Programme is linked to the national Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan. She called for increased Government investment in voluntary family planning and contraceptives in order to give women broad access and choices, and for Myanmar to meet its commitment to the International Conference on Population and Development, and the FP2020 agreement to halve unmet need for family planning by 2020.

“Both in our private lives and in public life, we spend our money on what we value. This is an additional reason why budget allocation for sexual and reproductive health matters, because it says something about what we value”, she said.

Sexual violence in conflict

In Yangon, Ms. Londén and Mr.  Andersson met with representatives for ethnic communities that identify as Rohingya and Rakhine respectively, and listened to their views and concerns. They also met with women’s organizations who gave accounts of the desperate situation of women affected by the crisis in Rakhine and by the conflicts in other parts of the country, including Kachin. At the core of the discussion was the lack of justice for survivors of sexual violence in conflict in Myanmar, particularly women who belong to ethnic minorities.

In a meeting with I/NGOs Ms. Londén discussed the shrinking operating space of aid organizations in Myanmar, and the role of civil society. The agenda highlighted women’s lack of access to justice and health services, as well as the need for data to inform aid work. UNFPA highlighted that census reports now exist for each township in Myanmar, and the significance of this unique initiative for local governance. Participants also explored ways in which the UN can collaborate with civil society organizations who work at grassroot level to reach vulnerable women and those furthest left behind.

Women making active and informed decisions

Before leaving the country, Ms. Londén visited a sexual and reproductive health clinic in Yangon, operated by UNFPA’s partner Marie Stopes International. She heard about the sociocultural, legal and policy barriers that limit women’s access to voluntary family planning, and she spoke with Myanmar women who are making active and informed decisions about how many children and when to have them.

During her visit, Ms. Londen also met with the United Nations Resident Coordinator Knut Østby, with the Heads of UN agencies in Myanmar, with donors and with ambassadors.