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NAY PYI TAW, Myanmar – On 11 July 2019, a ceremony was held in Nay Pyi Taw to mark the commemoration of World Population Day 2019 under the theme 25 years of ICPD: accelerating the promise. Jointly organized by the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population and UNFPA, the event was held in the Thingaha Hotel.

The ceremony was attended by HE U Myint Swe, Vice President of Myanmar; HE U Thein Swe, Union Minister for Labour, Immigration and Population; Mr Knut Ostby, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and Mr Ramanathan Balakrishnan, UNFPA Representative for Myanmar. Also in attendance were members of the diplomatic corps and representatives of development partners in Myanmar. Various government departments with mandates related to the ICPD were also represented.

Speech delivered by Mr. Knut Ostby, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator

Vice President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, Your Excellency U Myint Swe

Union Minister for the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, Your Excellency U Thein Swe

Excellencies Honourable Union Ministers

Senior Government officials present

The UNFPA Representative, Mr. Ramanathan Balakrishnan

Colleagues from the UN

Development Partners

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen


Good morning and Mingalabar!

It is with great pleasure and honour that I join you today to commemorate the occasion of the World Population Day for 2019, under a very important theme: 25 Years of the ICPD: Accelerating the Promise.

25 years ago, in September of 1994, Myanmar joined a global revolution that started in Cairo, Egypt, when 179 world leaders convened at the International Conference on Population and Development, the ICPD, and recognised that individuals have a human right to make free and responsible reproductive choices. At that conference, the global leaders endorsed a global programme of action that linked women’s empowerment, rights and sexual and reproductive health to sustainable development.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, the watershed ICPD consensus was a transformative victory for governments and reproductive health movements. For the first time in history, the ICPD shifted the focus from demographic targets to human lives. World leaders promised universal access to family planning and reproductive health services and reproductive rights. They vowed to reduce maternal deaths and they pledged end gender-based violence. The leaders also recognized women empowerment as a prerequisite for sustainable development and called upon governments to invest in young people, end poverty, and protect migrants and displaced people. They further pledged to address environmental issues associated with population changes.

That human-centric approach to development, as pioneered by the ICPD, has lived on in subsequent international development agendas including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs). You will appreciate, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, that the ICPD Programme of Action and the Sustainable Development Goals are two mutually reinforcing development blueprints. In the words of Crown Princess of Denmark a few weeks ago: “the ICPD is the cornerstone of the sexual and reproductive rights movement, and protecting sexual and reproductive health and rights, women's empowerment and gender equality are all essential if we are to have any chance of achieving the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.”

The theme for this year presents government and all of us with a unique opportunity to take stock of the gains that have been made in realising the goals of the ICPD in our respective constituencies. At the same time, the theme challenges us all to fully commit and further accelerate the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action, as promised in 1994, in pursuit of realising the rights and choices for all and in our quest to meet the aspirations set out in the 2030 Agenda, of leaving no one behind and reaching the farthest behind.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, let me at this juncture recognise the important role of UNFPA as the custodian of the ICPD both at the global level and at country level in Myanmar. Incidentally, 2019 also marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of UNFPA in 1969. We say Happy 50th Birthday to UNFPA and we wish the organisation every success in the important and valuable life-saving work it renders to millions of women, girls and young people around the world, and in Myanmar.

Allow me at this point, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, take recognition of the commitment of the Myanmar Government to the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action, most of which have been well articulated by the Vice President. And let also quote from a statement made by the Union Minister of Health and Sports, U Myint Htwe, during the 52nd Session of the Commission on Population and Development in New York, in April this year:

“Myanmar has accorded strong and unreserved commitment on implementation of the Programme of Action of ICPD since its inception in 1994. We are also very serious about it.”

We take note of the strategies and actions reflected in the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan (MSDP, 2018 – 2030), aimed at addressing issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights; reducing maternal deaths; strengthening family planning programmes; ensuring gender equality and empowerment of women; and promoting the participation of young people in the economic, political and community spheres.

We note the progress made in some of the key indicators such as the reduction of the maternal mortality ratio from over 450 to around 282 deaths per 100,000 live births during the period between 1990 and 2014. However, it is worth noting the maternal deaths are worryingly high in some states and regions such as Chin (357), Ayeyawady (354), Magway (344), Bago (316) and Rakhine (314). The gap between rural and urban maternal deaths is pretty wide, at 193 and 310 maternal death per 100,000 live births, respectively. We encourage concerted efforts to ensure that Myanmar is able to attain the global SDG target of less than 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births by 2030.

We also take recognition of the efforts made by the Myanmar Government, with support from UNFPA and other partners, in ensuring the implementation of its commitment to the Family Planning 2020 agenda, particularly aiming at increasing contraceptive prevalence rate (CPR) from 41% in 2013 to 60% in 2020; and reducing the unmet need for family planning to less than 10% by 2020. Thanks to a concerted effort in Myanmar by the Government, the United Nations, NGOs and other actors, half of married women in Myanmar are currently able to practice family planning. Still, one in six women have an unmet need for contraception. This means that although they would like to, over two million women and their partners cannot exercise their human right to plan their families. This leads to unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and maternal and infant death, and it limits women in their education, work and career choices. This, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, is part of the unfinished business that we need to address as part of our commitment to the ICPD and the SDGs.

A national sexual and reproductive health and rights policy has been developed and we trust that it will be approved soon, in order to further accelerate the implementation of reproductive health programmes in the country.

In terms of gender equality and women’s empowerment, we acknowledge government’s leadership and efforts in creating an enabling environment by putting in place policies and mechanisms aimed at elevating the status of women in the Myanmar society. In particular, we note the development of the National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women (NSPAW) (2013-2022), which was launched in 2013, whose aim is to promote and protect the rights of women, ensuring their equal access to resources, opportunities, services and representation in the decision making positions. We are also cognizant of the drafting of the Protection and Prevention of Violence against Women (PoVAW) Bill, and we look forward to its expeditious approval and operationalization.

We commend the Government for developing and launching the first ever National Youth Policy and its strategic plan, with support from UNFPA and other partners. We trust that these will be fully operationalised in order to meet the aspirations of young people in Myanmar, particularly in regard to their education, health, including reproductive health, decent employment, access to livelihood opportunities, inclusive participation in key national processes, including the peace process, among others.

Looking ahead, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, we need to keep our foot on the gas pedal in order to sustain and accelerate the momentum for attaining the goals of the ICPD and, by extension, the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda. We need to renew our commitment to ensuring that every woman, girl and young person in Myanmar, regardless of geographical location or other socio-economic characteristics, is able to access comprehensive sexual reproductive health services; and that they are free from gender based violence and any other forms of violence. If we are to leave no one behind, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, we need to be able to access those women, girls and young people living in difficult to reach, conflict or disaster hit areas of the country, and offer them services that would enable them to live a life of dignity. With UNFPAs strategic physical presence in some of the critical locations such Shan (Taunggyi and Lashio), Kachin, Rakhine (Sittwe and Maungtaw) and Kayin States, it is imperative that the organisation is enabled to reach the most in need and those likely to be left behind. The logic is simple, Your Excellecies, Ladies and Gentlemen, if women and girls are empowered to make decisions about their bodies and to live free from violence, they are more likely to contribute to the economy. If couples have access to family planning information and services and good reproductive healthcare, they are more likely to make responsible decisions about how many children to have and when. If, on top of all that, this young generation in Myanmar is healthy, well-educated and able to find decent employment, then Myanmar will achieve quick development. This then implies a better life for everyone, as well as less poverty and increased chances for lasting peace.

Finally, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, the commemoration of 25 years of ICPD will climax in a conference in Nairobi in November this year. I understand UNFPA is in discussions with the government of Myanmar to send a high-level delegation to the conference. At the conference in Nairobi, national governments, private sector, development partners and other stakeholders will be expected to renew and re-energise their political will and financial commitment towards the full implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action and meet the SDGs by 2030. I trust that Myanmar will be well represented at this very important event.

As a way of concluding, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me, as Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator of the United Nations system in Myanmar, to reiterate the UN’s unwavered support to Myanmar’s commitment and efforts toward the full implementation of the ICPD along with its aspirations for attaining the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you for your attention.