A House of Cards



In an article by the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), writer Suzanne Ito references the official address commemorating International Youth Day, made by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, calling the world’s youth a “transformative force…not passive beneficiaries, but equal and effective partners. Their aspirations extend far beyond jobs; youth also want a seat at the table—a real voice in shaping the policies that shape their lives. We need to listen and engage with young people.”

Indeed, increasingly conscious of our responsibilities as part of a global community, today’s youth crave to be contributing catalysts for change. However, while Ban Ki-moon’s words are inspirational, what the IWHC ignores, is that along with opportunity comes liability. In other words, the youth who “want a seat at the table” must acknowledge the table setting.

The IWHC and its partner organization, the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (YCSRR)—two voices that ostensibly operate under the international consensus of the Programme of Action—are quick to misrepresent and obfuscate the numerous international consensus documents and legal agreements. “…Young people ages 10-24 have special needs for sexual and reproductive health information and services”, writes IWHC. However, what this means and what this entails is undefined.

The consensus document born of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action defines “reproductive health” as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.” While the text leaves room for the sovereign right of each state to allow abortion, it does not identify abortion as a right on the basis of international consensus. Moreover, the document specifically spells out that “[i]n no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning…” and that “[E]very attempt should be made to eliminate the need for abortion.”[1]

Although asserting that reproductive health includes abortion, no international legal agreement or consensus document names abortion as a component of reproductive health. –WYA White Paper on Reproductive Health

In another play with words, the YCSRR states that “[a]ll human rights are universal and must not be limited on the grounds of conflict with religion, culture or tradition.” This clearly, but subtly, contradicts the letter and spirit of the Programme of Action, which explicitly spells out respect for “the various religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds [of participating countries], in conformity with universally recognized international human rights.”[2] Here, YCSRR has surreptitiously pitted abortion against the religions, cultures, and traditions of innumerable youth around the world. These youth will be alienated by YCSRR’s message and in turn the false representation of the Programme of Action, which is supposed to unify the youth of the world in supporting the International Conference on Population and Development’s mission.

Therefore, the claim that IWHC and YCSRR base their mission upon the Programme of Action is contradicted by their call to fight for the right to legal, safe, and affordable abortions. (http://iwhc.org/priorities/ensure-safe-legal-abortion/; http://www.youthcoalition.org/about/principles-values/)

The IWHC and YCSRR’s unequivocal misrepresentation of the Programme of Action is a blatant attempt to highjack the ideas of a document, in order to bias future international consensus. This manner of participation at the UN-level not only discredits the legitimacy of IWHC and YCSRR, it weakens international consensus among nations and damages the credibility of all youth voices.


Written by Magda Laszlo, a WYA North America intern in New York City.



[1] International Conference on Population and Development, Sept. 5–13, 1994, Report of the International Conference on Population and Development, Ch. I, Res. 1, Annex, 8.25, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.171/13/Rev.1 (Oct. 18, 1994) [hereinafter ICPD Report].

[2] Id. Ch. I, Res. 1, Annex, Ch. 2, Principle 8


More To Explore