This statement was presented by Noor Imran of Pakistan at the APFSD Virtual Consultation on 30 March 2020. Click HERE to watch the intervention.
Excellencies, distinguished guests, fellow civil society members. Good Afternoon!
I am Noor Imran, a young advocate representing young people from the Asia Pacific region that would like to deliver an intervention. I am from Pakistan- a country that was the first to integrate the SDGs into its national development agenda in February 2016 while having its first VNR only last year in 2019.
At this moment, as a young person I am overwhelmed with the unprecedented impact of the COVID19 crises, the public health impact of the crises that has transcended globally. Measures such as lockdowns have specific impact on young people, their well- being and access to health services including essential Sexual and Reproductive Health services. Social distancing measures are also a privilege in our context and this holds true for the more marginalised communities.
Young people are currently facing financial impact such as job losses which not only impacting our economic but also our physical, and mental well-being. I am worried about how long I will be allowed to work from home while my advocacy requires me to seek out human contact. The Global Sustainable Development Report 2019, in which four levers of change are identified as: governance; economy and finance; individual and collective action; and science and technology and six transformative entry points or areas are identified to accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals which we are all here to deliberate upon. In the 2030 Agenda, it is emphasized that bold and transformative steps are required to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path.
We as young people now more than ever recognise the need for transformational approaches to deal with the region’s complexity, given the embedded structural and systemic barriers, rising inequalities and fundamentalisms, climate change impact the region faces leading to further marginalisation, elite capture, social conflict, institutional inertia or harmful sociocultural norms.
It would not be wrong to say that the entire Asia-Pacific region is still grappling with food insecurity, low basic education, lack of social infrastructures, increased vulnerabilities to climate change related disasters, conflict, lack of decent employment even for educated youth. The rising culture and religious fundamentalisms have further created systemic barriers in the implementation of laws and policies that address deeply rooted gender inequality including in realisation of sexual and reproductive health and rights for especially women and young people. As a young girl who has been confined by a self-isolating home with little to no mobility, I worry about the more marginalised young girls on whom these restrictions have greater impact such as the ones in rural settings who are more exposed to domestic violence now than before. Forced, child and early marriages, female genital mutilation and cutting, gender-based violence against women and girls and freedom to express one’s sexuality without stigma discrimination and violence all particularly impact young people and adolescents. We are not on track to achieve all the targets that comprise the sustainable development goals. As a young person living in a low-income developing country my biggest concern right now other than contracting COVID-19 is the debilitating and endangered supply of contraceptives. The birth control pill I use has already doubled in price. Also, in times of crisis such as this, forced and unwanted pregnancies and the need to seek safe abortion and care increases. With resources and healthcare force being redirected to attend to the COVID crisis, the current situation further challenges the already limited access to timely and safe abortion for many women and girls in my region.
Several countries in the region, especially in South Asia, are still struggling to raise the legal national age of marriage to 18 despite having committed to do so in the UPR and CEDAW review processes. Countries are reluctant to implement Comprehensive Sexuality Education despite rising cases of child abuse, rape and murder every single year including negative reproductive health outcomes. Also, youth friendly health services and gender sensitive sexual and reproductive health and rights services which are among the most significant issues affecting young people’s health and well-being are yet to be fully addressed.
We are in the last decade of the Sustainable Development Agenda and we are reminded time and time again of the goal we set out for ourselves: Goal 17 which iterates the need to strengthen global partnerships to support and achieve the ambitious targets of the 2030 Agenda, bringing together national governments, the international community, civil societies, the private sector and other agencies. This current crisis is another reminder of how we have forgotten about our responsibilities and commitments to Goal 17.
Our regional progress on all six transformative entry points of Global environment commons, Urban and peri-urban development, Energy access and decarbonisation, sustainable food systems and healthy nutrition, sustainable and just economies and Human well-being and capabilities is way behind target. It is important that Governments conduct deeper national performance analyses to understand what works in some areas but not in others, and why countries could be exceeding in one entry point and lacking in another.
Hospitals at the moment are not catering to any elective procedures and SRHR, especially in a country that does not recognise the need for it, has been deprioritised. As a result of a survey that I conducted with other young people in 2017 for the alternative UPR report for my country, better access to information on sexual and reproductive health was identified as the top concern for their sexual health and focus from that has been completely shifted amidst the crisis. The sexual and gender minorities already marginalised are further pushed away now. Lack of sustainable resources force out these conditions in the community.
It will take a serious political will and governmental resolve to work across all sectors as a collective unit to accelerate transformations. As a young person advocating for SRHR for 4 years now at platforms like the APFSD, HRC and the UPR, I feel defeated by the COVID-19 crisis and our region’s response to the situation. I wrote this statement in a country on lockdown where driving out for groceries seems to be apocalyptic. Strategies to accelerate transformations need to be developed right now! We do not have time to observe and evolve anymore. We are not equipped to deal with a situation like Italy, Spain or China region wide.
Political will of the Member States in the region is crucial as we need holistic implementation of the Agenda 2030 in the region. It is important to not look at the SDGs in silos but work in the interlinkages, and the methodology of entry points and levers as a good starting point, which countries can implement to address the social, environment and economic dimensions of sustainable development in an integrated manner. We also need the science and technology interface to inform evidence-based policy making and cooperation among stakeholders. We need to ensure social protection systems are in place and universal health coverage is secure for all people in the region.
We have spent half a decade committing and reviewing our targets under the SDGs. Had we developed sustainable food systems; we would not be panic buying basic staples to survive COVID-19. We must learn from this crisis and accelerate the transformation while we still have a chance to do so.
As a young advocate I am concerned about youth participation at the regional and global level discussions on sustainable development. I have been a part of the Pre-APFSD Youth consultation every year since 2017. On such short notice when the virtual consultation has been announced, I fear many of my fellow young advocates will not be able to voice their concerns anymore. We are however, committed to organising a youth consultation post this consultation. However, as I am making this intervention through this virtual means, i am also aware of the fact that there is a large demographic of young people who do not have accessibility and capacity to facilities. The member states must ensure meaningful youth participation in this process by recognising that young people are not a homogenous group; their realities are diverse and so are their needs. We must therefore be inclusive while we accelerate transformations and this cannot be achieved without the inclusion of about 670 million young people living in Asia and the Pacific which is the largest number of young people globally in any region.
I end this intervention by expressing my hope that the member states will not overlook the issue of young people especially in this crisis and that our voices are heard not just in the outcome of this virtual consultation but in the laws and policies and its implementation at the national level.