At the Millennium Summit in New York exactly ten years ago, the UN General Assembly adopted ten “Millennium Development Goals” (MDGs) aimed at eliminating poverty, hunger and inequality, and improving healthcare and education worldwide by the year 2015. Today the goal furthest from achievement is MDG 5 “improving the health of women” with an estimated 500,000 women still dying every year from pregnancy related causes.
In her annual report to the Human Rights Council today (31 May 2010), UN Commissioner for Human Rights, the South African judge Navi Pillay, called for greater efforts to reduce the appalling toll of maternal mortality. Roy Brown, IHEU main representative at the UN Geneva, applauded her efforts but pointed out that the world has known for decades how to solve the problem: by giving women control over their own fertility, but this cannot be achieved while culturally and religiously inspired misogyny persists. And the Millennium Goals in general will fail to be achieved while too many national leaders put their own financial interests ahead of the needs of their people.
Here is Brown’s speech in full:
International Humanist and Ethical Union
UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL: 14th Session (31 May – 18 June 2010)
Speaker: IHEU Representative, Roy W Brown: Monday 31 May 2010
Agenda Item 2: Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Millennium Development Goals, Misogyny and Corruption
We welcome the emphasis placed by the High Commissioner in her report on the Millennium Development Goals. As she rightly pointed out it is MDG 5 regarding maternal health which remains furthest from achievement, yet the world has known for decades that the key to reducing the appalling toll of maternal mortality is to give women control of their own bodies. Governments must invest in providing women with the information and means to decide when to become pregnant. But this cannot be achieved while culturally and religiously inspired misogyny and gynophobia are allowed to persist in so many states. Governments have a massive responsibility to try to change such deeply embedded attitudes towards women.
Failure to adequately address this issue in Africa has resulted in a doubling of the population of that continent in the past 30 years, and according to NASA report the continent is already losing enough ground water each year to supply the annual needs of 300 million Africans – the extent to which Africa already exceeds its long term carrying capacity.
Our second point is this:
The distinguished representative of the African Union pointed out that the Millennium Development Goals are not being achieved because of the failure by many states to honour their commitments to provide adequate funding, while more that 1 billion people continue to live on less that a dollar a day. This is true. But according to reports we have seen, over a 30 year period, the leaders of one African country alone misappropriated some 300 billion dollars of their nation’s wealth; money which, had it been applied to human development programs would have gone far towards lifting the entire country out of poverty.
Mr President, corruption is a human rights issue, and unless certain national leaders begin to understand that their first responsibility is to their people and not to themselves, it is hard to see how any of the Millennium Development Goals can be achieved.
Thank you sir.