Reproductive freedom on the agenda of the CPD: interview with an activist

Kristina Castell (RSFU) sat down with Bing Parcon, acting Executive Director at the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR) in Manila, during the Commission on Population Development (CPD).

WGNRR is a 35 years old NGO working on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and on reproductive justice. Blng has been with WGNRR for 10 years.

You have been participating at events such as the CPD for several years now. Can you describe your experiences so far? 

I normally engage at the international level because we are looking to make policy changes. The focus of WGNRR is to bring forward the voices of the most marginalised at a global level. We want to ensure that the realities of women and girls on the ground are represented at these fora. I engaged at the regional levels as well as global – like the CSW and the CPD. These spaces are very important for us because our government can be held accountable to the commitments they made to women and girls.

Has the ICPD Programme of Action been helpful in your policy work? Has it made it possible for your organisation to hold your government accountable?

ICPD Programme of Action is not a binding document. In terms of making sure the government’s commitments have become a reality, the ICPD has been invoked by many activists for SRHR at national level. This was true when we fought for the Reproductive Health Law. It was a very long process getting the bill passed in 2012. The bill has been implemented, but it faced a lot of opposition and it’s still facing challenges. 

We are seeing an increased polarisation at global level manifesting through a backlash on women’s rights, notably reproductive rights. Are you facing the same trend at the national level and how does it take shape?

With the implementation of the Global Gag Rule (GGR), the effects were evident on sexual and reproductive rights as a whole – across the globe. The GGR and its impact were translated at the national level through NGOs losing their funds, the opposition being reinvigorated (eg the Marches for Life) and through renewed attacks on human rights’ defenders. These struggles, faced by SRHR groups, are a manifestation of this polarisation. We can also see that the views of the opposition are very much present also at the CPD, in the statements of some of the governments. 

But I don’t think feminists and SRHR activists are backing down. 

It’s extremely important that there is civil society representation at these types of fora. It’s important for us – women’s rights defenders – to work in networks. Do you also work through a regional network in preparation for the CPD?

We work together with ARROW in a strategic partnership. But I’m not here as part of the big delegation from the region, but I am part of the official government delegation, as a CSO expert within the delegation. No matter how difficult it can be to work with our government, there are people within the government that are welcoming towards CSOs. 

It is important to continue having CSO representation in all these spaces because after all we are acting as the ‘checks and balance’ and the ones really working on the ground. Of course, the government has the duty to fulfil and protect people’s rights. But there are a lot of instances when the government doesn’t fulfil its duty, and this is where we come in – as CSOs – to express descent and ask for progress. 

As activists, we say that our rights are not given to us, we must fight for them. CSOs and activists on the ground are at the forefront of this fight. 

Thank you very much Bing!

Read our sum up of the CPD.