By Aimable Twahirwa
KIGALI, Oct 30 2023 (IPS)
Asian and African parliamentarians have committed to accelerate the implementation of a people-centered development agenda as the African continent continues to face rapid demographic change with several challenges, such as youth unemployment and gender inequities.
During the African Parliamentarians’ Dialogue towards ICPD30 and AADPD10, which took place in October 2023 in Kigali, Rwanda, lawmakers shared measures their countries have undertaken by adopting new legislation seeking to provide opportunities for the youth while empowering women as a critical step for reaping the demographic dividend in Africa.
Official estimates show that young people between 18 years and 35 years of age make up more than 70 percent of the population in Africa, where women account for more than 50 percent of the continent’s combined population.
According to Professor Kiyoko Ikegami, the Executive Director of the Japan-based Asian Population and Development Association (APDA), a basic condition for building global partnerships is to use legislation to promote transparency, accountability, and good governance for the people.
Whereas Africa is expected to account for more than 90 percent of the future increase in world population, Ikegami stresses the need to boldly implement those changes as well as respond to newly emerging needs in the population structure.
In 1994, the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in Cairo, Egypt, set a bold new vision of the relationships between population, development, and individual rights and well-being.
Its framework for action, endorsed then by 179 governments at the global level, affirmed that inclusive, sustainable development is not possible without prioritizing human rights, including reproductive rights; empowering women and girls; and addressing inequalities as well as the needs, aspirations, and rights of individuals.
As stakeholders are now set to celebrate the 30th anniversary of implementing ICDP resolutions, Ikegami emphasizes the need for African and Asian nations to consolidate views on how countries should specifically carry out parliamentary activities for the global review process.
“As the representative body of the people, lawmakers play a critical role in enacting policies that advance sustainable outcomes guiding to people-centered development progress,” Ikegami told IPS.
Although nearly 30 years since the landmark conference in Cairo, people-centered development has enabled numerous gains in different parts of Africa; experts still believe that the long-term solution to the pending population issues still requires elected representatives to be actively engaged in formulating and implementing appropriate policies and programmes.
“Lagging regions in Africa have employed various policies and instruments to put in place the comprehensive needs of people and communities, but there are several reasons why some countries can still do better,” she said.
Some participants at the African and Asian Parliamentarians’ Dialogue in Kigali emphasized the need to take lessons from experience towards implementing ICDP’s commitments stressing the lack of effective monitoring strategies.
Kwabena Asante-Ntiamoah, country representative in Rwanda for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) pointed out that demographic change is one of the key challenges in Africa, where there is unprecedented growth of the youth population.
“This current demographic structure with a large youthful population, he observed, can be leveraged for socio-economic transformation, with the right investments,” he said.
Jeanne Henriette Mukabikino, chair of the Rwandan Parliamentarians’ Network on Population and Development (RPRPD), told IPS that considering the current population growth, Africa should utilize its youthful population potential for its socio-economic progress.
Both Asante-Ntiamoah and Mukabikino are convinced that Africa’s young population brings many opportunities for economic growth despite deepening inequality within and across the continent.
Apart from conflicts and climate change, such as cyclones and droughts, which continue to contribute to food insecurity in Africa, some lawmakers see hope in positive trends at a time when Africa and Asia are working together to tackle global issues of population and development.
However, some lawmakers believe that despite progress made by several African countries in addressing population and development issues, these efforts are still threatened by multifaceted challenges, backsliding on the rights and choices of women and girls, and the polarization of the sexual and reproductive health and rights agenda.
The 2022 UNFPA’s State of World Population 2022 report indicates that nearly half of all pregnancies, totaling 121 million each year throughout the world, are unintended.
The report urges policymakers, community leaders, and all individuals to empower women and girls to make affirmative decisions about sex, contraception, and motherhood and to foster societies that recognize the full worth of women and girls.
Dr Celestin Fiarovana Lovanirina, member of the National Assembly of Madagascar, told IPS that with such a large population of young people, supportive policies and programs on inclusive youth development are critical more than ever.
“As legislators, we have a responsibility to make laws in a move to address such kind of issue that is presently affecting our population,” he said.
During the three-day parliamentary dialogue, which featured multiple sessions covering topics such as the ICPD30 review process and Addis Ababa Declaration on Population and Development (AADPD10), some participants shared experiences of their countries where for example, adopting a new law on minimum legal age of marriage for girls has been critical to harnessing the demographic dividend.
Latest estimates by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) show that in many parts of Africa, women and girls are still vulnerable to a disproportionate range of risks, particularly to their sexual and reproductive health.
The UN agency’s report shows that in most cases, girls are subject to child marriage, female genital mutilation, and limited education and are denied equal opportunities.
Experts point out that with more people in the labor force and fewer children to support, a country has a window of opportunity for rapid economic growth if the right social and economic investments and policies are made in health, education, governance, and the economy.
Madina Ndangiza, a member of the Rwandan parliament, shared her experience in adopting new laws to ensure that girls and boys enjoy the dignity and human rights to expand their capabilities.
“We believe that education is a cornerstone to protecting girls from child marriage … at 21 young girls are supposed to have graduated from university and are healthier to make their choice and participate more in the formal labor,” Ndangiza told delegates.
On the sidelines of the parliamentary dialogue, some lawmakers agreed that the lack of an implementation plan of policy has been a hindrance to many countries needed to capture demographic dividends.
However, Ikegami pointed out that beyond the current situation, most African and Asian countries are also experiencing a demographic transition which they should use to their advantage.
“This dialogue serves as a platform of exchanges between African and Asian lawmakers to assess how their framework legislation should create an enabling environment for decision-making, to harness the growing population to accelerate the achievement of development aspirations,” she said.
While the aging population is the most emerging issue in Asia, Ikegami points out that youth unemployment is an issue that might be a concern for Africa.
“Context and realities are different at each continent and country’s levels, but we are trying to create opportunities for lawmakers to learn from each other,” she said.
IPS UN Bureau Report